Thursday, September 12, 2013

Should Richards keep campaigning?

Posted By on Thu, Sep 12, 2013 at 11:43 AM

Tom Richards has a decision to make. And my hunch is that it’s one of the toughest he has faced in a long time.

Having lost the Democratic primary to Lovely Warren, does he try hold on to the office of mayor and run in the November general election? He’s still on the ballot, on the Working Families and Independence lines. In that respect, then, he’s still in the race. But should he conduct a serious campaign? Or should he say that the people in his party have spoken, and he’s supporting Warren?

I think there are compelling reasons why Richards should keep campaigning.

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Vargas and the RCSD's management problems

Posted By on Thu, Sep 12, 2013 at 10:59 AM

During the 1990’s, business schools and management gurus gushed over the virtues of managing chaos. As the money masters of Wall Street made millions buying and selling companies or shifting manufacturing overseas, managers and rank-and-file workers were urged to learn how to thrive in quixotic, ever-changing times.
Bolgen Vargas. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • Bolgen Vargas.

In the 2000’s, managing chaos has been replaced with managing ambiguity.
 
Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas says that managing ambiguity has become one of his biggest challenges. For example, Vargas says that he supports teacher-led schools, where teachers and schools operate with as much autonomy as possible. But with greater autonomy with operations and programs comes greater accountability, says Vargas.

“Teacher-led schools, in my definition, would mean maximum autonomy, maximum flexibility, and maximum accountability,” he says. “I won’t make the mistake of the past. I won’t agree to give them autonomy and not accountability.”

Innovation and the risk-taking that innovation naturally involves are rewarding when they work, Vargas says, but there must be consequences when they don’t. Accountability could take several different forms, he says, including denial of tenure for teachers or principals.

Everyone says they’re in favor of accountability, Vargas says, until it happens. He says that when he tries to deny tenure, the resistance is fierce.

Managing ambiguity or ambiguous management, whatever Vargas sees as his biggest challenge, there's no denying that the district has suffered from serious management problems. But another thing is also clear: Gone are the days when educators are given the leeway or the benefit of the doubt because they work with people — and people have quirks — every day.

Urban education, in particular, has rapidly pivoted to formulaic solutions. The ambiguity caused by issues like poverty, truancy, and low parental engagement may have unpredictable, but not excusable outcomes. 

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Questions raised by Lovely Warren's victory

Posted By on Thu, Sep 12, 2013 at 10:01 AM

Short- and longer-term questions in light of Lovely Warren’s victory in Tuesday’s Democratic mayoral primary election:

Short ter
Lovely Warren. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • Lovely Warren.
m
1) Will Tom Richards campaign on the Independence and Working Families lines?
2) How will the mayoral campaign of Green Party candidate Alex White adjust? White, like almost everyone else, was probably expecting to face Richards, not Warren, in November. (I had a brief e-mail exchange with White yesterday. He said that Warren’s victory will change his campaign, but not as much as you might think.)

Longer term (if Warren wins the general election)
1) Can Joe Morelle stay Democratic Party boss? Those quick to call for Morelle's head need to say who should replace him.
2) We hear there’s a lot of resume-polishing going on at City Hall. You can’t blame them; it’s only natural for Warren to want to bring in her own people. And Warren made the lack of diversity in the city’s top jobs a campaign issue. But beware. Bob Duffy cleaned house when he came in, and the city gained some good people. But also some “dunderheads,” say sources who, you can guess why, don’t want to be named.
3) What happens to Police Chief James Sheppard? On the campaign trail, Warren has so far avoided questions about Sheppard’s fate. And the city’s streets have seemed particularly violent these last few weeks.
4) Who gets jobs? Undoubtedly, some of the people who supported Warren are going to end up employed by her administration. That’s how the game is played. I wouldn’t be surprised to see former Rochester school board member Allen Williams, and City Council members Dana Miller and Adam McFadden on the city’s payroll. Look to Warren’s transition team for clues.
5) How will Rochester’s business community, who backed Richards, react to a Warren victory? And what does that mean in terms of investment and development in the city, particularly downtown?
6) How much influence will State Assembly member David Gantt, Warren’s mentor and benefactor, have in city business? Plenty — no matter what Warren or Gantt say publicly.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

RIT partners with Uncommon Schools

Posted By on Wed, Sep 11, 2013 at 12:48 PM

The Rochester Institute of Technology is partnering with the charter schools group Uncommon Schools to open a high school in Rochester in the fall of 2014. The school will open with a 60-student freshman class and grow to about 500 students serving grades 9 to 12, according to a letter to the RIT community from President Bill Destler.

The partnership gives RIT a pipeline of college-bound students, as well as opportunities for research, and new teacher and education program development.

“Universities can’t afford not to be involved in the preparation of K-12 students for college students,” Destler says.

RIT won’t provide any tuition or operational funds to the charter school. The partnership will instead by funded through a grant from RIT trustee Ronald Zarella.

No site for the new school has been determined.

Uncommon Schools manages 38 charter schools in Boston, New York City, Newark, NJ, Troy, and Rochester.

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PLEX brownfield project still moving ahead

Posted By on Wed, Sep 11, 2013 at 11:48 AM

In 2011 and 2012, the City of Rochester and the Plymouth-Exchange neighborhood spent a lot of time developing plans to address a blighted area at the end of Flint Street, near the Genesee River. The result was a master plan for Vacuum Oil Brownfield Opportunity Area, which is intended to guide efforts to redevelop the site and improve the surrounding community.

The 58-acre Vacuum Oil BOA project site is a collection of public and privately held properties along the west bank of the Genesee River between the Ford St. bridge and the abandoned railroad bridge connecting to the UofR river campus, according to the city's website. 

Last February, the city applied for state funding to help pay for investigation, clean up, and reuse of sites within the BOA — the 24-acre Vacuum Oil site in particular. During a PLEX neighborhood meeting last night, Mark Gregor, the city's manager of environmental quality, told residents that the city is still working to move the project forward.

"We're still very focused on the area," Gregor said. 

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Smart growth advocacy group troubled by DOT policy

Posted By on Tue, Sep 10, 2013 at 11:24 AM

Sometime this month, the state Department of Transportation will submit a multi-year plan laying out $11.7 billion worth of projects, all receiving federal funds, for approval by federal agencies. The department's goal, according to a press release, is to have total approval by October 1.

But Empire State Future, a statewide smart growth advocacy group, has concerns with the plan. The organization's key objection is technical — or, put another way, wonky — and is explained by staff in this blog post. But in a nutshell, Empire State Future is concerned that a state DOT policy could prevent the construction of new sidewalks as part of state road reconstruction projects. And that would put the policy in conflict with the state's complete streets law, which requires planners to provide for safe use of roadways by pedestrians and cyclists, the organization says.

In the Rochester area, many if not most state roads already have sidewalks. And the state has been pretty good about making sure street reconstruction projects take cyclists and pedestrians into consideration. For example, the DOT's plans to rebuild Monroe Avenue between I-590 and Clover Street will include bike lanes or shared use lanes.

But a policy that prevents construction of new sidewalks, or any bike-pedestrian infrastructure, should raise red flags. That could lead to newly-developed areas that lack non-car connections, a situation that's not good for neighborhoods, the environment, or wallets.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Big election week

Posted By on Mon, Sep 9, 2013 at 10:28 AM

It’s all about elections this week with crucial Democratic primaries for City Council, mayor, and school board taking place on Tuesday night. Some suburbs have primary races, too. Polls are open from noon to 9 p.m.

The title event is the mayoral contest between Tom Richards and City Council President Lovely Warren. Voters seem to be buying into Richards’ “stay the course” refrain, with the latest poll giving the incumbent a sizable lead. Warren says that Richards lacks vision and hasn’t done enough to improve the plight of Rochester’s poor. The winner of the primary faces Green Party candidate Alex White in November's general election. 

Five at-large seats are in play on City Council, and all five incumbents are running again: Loretta Scott, Matt Haag, Jackie Ortiz, Carolee Conklin, and Dana Miller. They are being challenged by the Rev. Marlowe Washington; small business owners Lisa Jacques and Anthony Giordano; and retired teacher Ann Lewis.

Three Rochester school board seats are up for grabs. Incumbents Van White, Cynthia Elliott, and Jose Cruz are being challenged by Ernest Flagler, Howard Eagle and running mate Ronald Hall, Candice Lucas, Donald Hardaway, Tim McCauley, and Liz Hallmark.

The outcome is difficult to predict. Education has been a major issue in the mayoral race between Mayor Tom Richards and City Council President Lovely Warren, adding to the already intense focus on the city school district’s low performance.

There is temptation to throw out the incumbents, but a strong case can also be made for not putting the district through further leadership upheavals.

Suburban races vary from town to town, though they are mostly Republican contests. The primaries include:

  • In Henrietta’s Republican primary, sitting town Supervisor Michael Yudelson faces a challenge from Town Board member Jack Moore. Yudelson has served as supervisor since 2008, and Moore started serving on the Town Board the same year. Yudelson has the Henrietta Republican Committee’s endorsement and the Independence and Conservative lines.
  • In Perinton, sitting Supervisor James Smith is not seeking re-election. The town Republican Committee endorsed Michael Barker, who currently serves as a county legislator. But he faces a challenge from Ed Dunn, who owns a home-building company and in 2010 ran a long-shot bid for governor.
  • In the Greece tax receiver race, Walter Schiemann and Republican Rick Antelli are running for the Independence Party line.
  • In Hamlin, Republicans can vote in primaries for the supervisor and Town Board seats. Sitting Supervisor Thomas Breslawski faces a challenge from Eric Peters, who also has the Conservative line. And three Republicans are running for two Town Board seats: Kurtis Goltermann, Craig Goodrich, and Jason Baxter. Goodrich and Baxter also have the Conservative and Independence lines. Jeremy Moule, Tim Louis Macaluso, and Christine Carrie Fien

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Friday, September 6, 2013

Not much new out of Medley meeting

Posted By on Fri, Sep 6, 2013 at 4:51 PM

Earlier today, Medley Centre developer Scott Congel met with representatives of the Monroe County Industrial Development Agency, the Town of Irondequoit, and the East Irondequoit Central School District. But the meeting didn't bring any dramatic news about the project.

In a sense, the meeting is an apt metaphor for the project: much talk with little visible progress. Local officials met with Congel, at his request, to discuss Congel's failure to live up to the terms of the project's payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement. 

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Greece Dems outline open government agenda

Posted By on Fri, Sep 6, 2013 at 1:05 PM

During a brief press conference this morning, Greece Democratic candidates presented a 10-point plan for opening up town government.

The agenda isn't complicated and many of the proposals center on community outreach. The proposals include:
  • Establishing citizens advisory committees for finance, communications, public works and public safety;
  • Having community meetings in the different town wards where residents can talk to their Town Board member or the supervisor one-on-one;
  • Broadcasting Town Board meetings live on cable and the Internet, as well as replaying recordings of those meetings;
  • Establishing a public integrity office and appointing a public ombudsman to help residents resolve problems with the town.

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Council members grill police chief over Hardaway arrest video

Posted By on Fri, Sep 6, 2013 at 11:10 AM

While Deputy Chief Mike Wood briefed the press Thursday afternoon on the latest in the city’s recent spate of killings, on the other side of Main Street, Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard answered tough questions from City Council members on an arrest video that has the whole community talking.

A video posted on YouTube last month shows a Rochester police officer struggling to subdue city resident Brenda Hardaway, 21. Hardaway tells the officer several times that she is pregnant. At one point, the officer punches Hardaway in the back of the head and forces her to the ground.

The video provoked swift outrage and has some, including the local NAACP, calling for the police chief’s resignation.

An internal review of the incident is under way. But Sheppard has said that Hardaway was physically aggressive with officers, and that she threatened them with pepper spray. (Hardaway has been indicted on six counts, including two felonies, by a grand jury.) Sheppard filled in more details to the story yesterday at a meeting of City Council’s Public Safety Committee, made up of Loretta Scott, Matt Haag, Lovely Warren, and Adam McFadden.

Sheppard said that Hardaway exchanged punches with an officer before the recording started. He said he’d wait for the results of the review to determine if the arresting officer’s behavior was justified, but that Hardaway’s pregnancy doesn’t get her a free pass. Officers are expected to behave a certain way, Sheppard said, but Hardaway is responsible, too, he said, for her own safety and the safety of her unborn child.

“We’re in a circumstance now where people believe it’s OK to fight the cops,” he said.

Most of the committee members at yesterday’s meeting said that they were appalled by the video. And a couple of them said that the chief’s public response up to this point has been “a little insensitive to what people saw” on the video.

Council President Warren commended Sheppard for the community outreach he has done as chief, but said that incidents like the Hardaway video threaten to undermine the chief’s good work and the public’s confidence in the police department.

Warren and McFadden, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, also said that they’ve gotten numerous complaints — Warren said she’s received about 300 calls — over a squad car that patrols black neighborhoods allegedly with a toy monkey in prominent view.

Sheppard said that the department is looking into the monkey allegations.

Sheppard and the committee members talked about holding public meetings so the community and police can share perspectives and concerns.

“There just can’t be much more of this,” Warren said, without trying to bring the community together. She said that Rochester’s race riots of the 1960’s began with a relatively small incident that served as a flashpoint for long-simmering tensions.









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