Friday, February 28, 2014

Charter committee gets input on redistricting, road patrol costs

Posted By on Fri, Feb 28, 2014 at 12:43 PM

The last time the county's Charter Review Committee held a public input meeting, the public didn't show up. Last night, however, a few speakers addressed the committee and offered substantial comments.

The committee is reviewing the county charter, a collection of laws that say how county government is organized and how it operates. Ultimately, any changes to the charter require the County Legislature's approval.

During last night's public input session at Monroe Community Hospital, Elaine Schmidt, a Rochester League of Women Voters board member, recommended amending the redistricting process laid out in the charter. She said the charter should provide for a nonpartisan redistricting commission, instead of having legislators draw the lines. 

Webster Supervisor Ronald Nesbitt, a Republican, spoke at some length about how provisions of the charter require town taxpayers to pay for the Monroe County Sheriff's Office road patrol, even though the town has its own police force. The sheriff's office doesn't regularly patrol the town, he said, so Webster residents are subsidizing services received by towns such as Pittsford or Riga, which don't have police departments. From Nesbitt's prepared remarks: 

"For the past 19 years I have asked every county legislator that has been elected to represent the Webster Community to please do something to help the Webster residents in this situation. The only answer I have gotten to date is that it's in the county charter and there isn't anything we can do about it. Well, now that you are looking at changing the county charter, it is time to make this change.

"If it is possible for the county legislators to pass a budget which figures out how much snow plowing to charge back to Webster residents for plowing county roads in Webster, I am sure that the county can figure out how to give the Webster residents a credit on their county tax bills for the Sheriff's road patrol we don't use.

"If the county can figure out how to charge on the county tax the increased tax for MCC students going to college, the county can figure out how to give the Webster residents a credit on their county tax bill for the Sheriff's road patrol we don't use."

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Kodak and EPA agree on clean-up plan for Eastman Business Park

Posted By on Fri, Feb 28, 2014 at 9:45 AM

When a bankruptcy court decided that Kodak could emerge from Chapter 11, its permission was contingent on the company's ability to reach a deal with the federal Environmental Protection Agency regarding pollution at the site. Kodak and the EPA have made that deal.

Specifically, the EPA has endorsed the 2013 settlement between the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Kodak, according to a press release from Governor Andrew Cuomo's office. Under that agreement, Kodak will establish a $49 million trust fund for clean-up work at Eastman Business Park and in the Genesee River. The state will provide an additional $50 million if Kodak's contribution isn't sufficient. And if the work exceeds $99 million, Kodak and the state will provide additional funding.

In return, the DEC promises it won't hold newer tenants and owners of the business park property liable for pollution caused by Kodak. Economic development officials say the promise is crucial to attract new tenants to the park.

Some environmental groups question the adequacy of the funding included in the agreement. They are particularly concerned whether there'll be enough money to do the expensive clean-up work in the Genesee River.

A slew of state and local officials hailed the agreement, however. Eastman Business Park is a critical economic development opportunity for the Rochester region and the state, they say. 

The agreement isn't final; it still needs approval from the Department of Justice and a bankruptcy court.

Once the agreement is approved, the DEC will manage the clean-up work at the river and the park, says the governor's office press release. The agency will investigate the contamination and develop a remediation plan for the Genesee River, the press release says, and clean-up work at the business park will continue. 

Kodak and DEC will also do public outreach regarding the clean-up.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Cuomo's plan to educate inmates makes sense

Posted By on Thu, Feb 27, 2014 at 12:35 PM

Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposal to give state prison inmates access to college degree programs has got critics sharpening their knives. 

A trio of Republican Congress members are behind the latest move against Cuomo's plan. House Representatives Chris Collins, Tom Reed, and Chris Gibson have introduced legislation, the Kids before Cons Act, that would prohibit the state from using federal funds to pay for convicted criminals' college education.

“The Governor’s latest plan to fund college educations for convicted criminals using taxpayer dollars is an insult to law abiding citizens all across our state," Collins said in a release posted on his Congressional website. "That is why, in response, I am introducing legislation that will ensure no federal taxpayer dollars are used to fund higher education for criminals. With 60 percent of college graduates in New York State carrying student debt, we must put our college kids before cons.”

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Refusing Arizona: What's Brewer waiting for?

Posted By on Wed, Feb 26, 2014 at 10:56 AM

Updated Thursday, February 27 at 12:10 p.m.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have permitted business owners to use religious beliefs as a reason to refuse service to gay couples. In defense of her decision, Brewer said she hasn't heard of a single instance in Arizona where a business owner's religious liberty was violated. 

Original post

The Arizona State Legislature's bill that would allow business owners to refuse to serve same-sex couples is proof that there is no longer a far right; there is no longer any limit or boundary to what is extreme right ideology. It’s gone. Kaput.

There’s no limit to how far fundamentalists will go to use religion as justification to impose their values on everyone else.

Though reports have surfaced suggesting that Arizona’s Republican governor, Jan Brewer, will veto the bill – which even some of its original backers have abandoned – I’m curious. What’s she waiting for?

Both of Arizona’s Republican US senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, have come out against the bill. So have the state’s Chamber of Commerce and about a dozen major US companies.

And certainly some conservatives must be concerned how legislation like this would impact upcoming national elections, especially those who have their eyes on taking back the US Senate.

If Brewer signs the bill into law, how would it be enforced? How would business owners know if two men or women entering an establishment constitute a gay couple? Do they just look the customers over and make a wild guess or can they make an assumption based on profiling?

It wasn’t long ago that gay men often wore different colored handkerchiefs in their rear pants pockets as a secret way of communicating with other gay men. There was an elaborate code that went with the handkerchiefs. If you wore it in the left pocket, it meant one thing. If you wore it on the right, it meant another. Blue, red, and black handkerchiefs each had their special significance.

Maybe it’s time to dig out those hankies, again. 

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

High Falls Film Fest gets new executive director

Posted on Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 1:17 PM

Mary Manard Reed. - PROVIDED PHOTO
  • PROVIDED PHOTO
  • Mary Manard Reed.
Mary Manard Reed is the new executive director of the High Falls Film Festival. She succeeds Mary Howard. 

Reed, of Penfield, previously served as senior director of global branding and marketing communications at CooperVision, a medical device manufacturer. She was also marketing director for Kodak's Motion Picture Film division, based in New York City. While at Kodak, she either represented the company or organized events at various film festivals such as Cannes and Sundance. 

The 12th season of the High Falls Film Festival begins in April with a two-day Spring Fest on April 25 and April 26. The main festival will be held from October 23 to October 26. 

The festival, which highlights the work of women in all aspects of film-making, includes features, documentaries and shorts. 

Legislator wants schools representative on COMIDA board

Posted By on Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 11:16 AM

Over the past year or so, the Monroe County Industrial Development Agency has approved tax-incentive packages for businesses over the objections of local school district officials.

Most recently, COMIDA's board approved an incentive package for an expansion at Marketplace Mall over the objection of the Rush-Henrietta school district. In June 2012, representatives of the Greece school district objected to incentives for renovations at Greece Ridge Mall. But district, COMIDA, and mall representatives were able to hammer out a compromise in that instance.

Now, Democratic County Legislator Justin Wilcox says he wants Monroe County school districts represented on COMIDA's board. He has sent a letter to County Legislature President Jeff Adair requesting that Adair fill a vacant seat on the board with someone recommended by the Monroe County School Boards Association.

Rosalind Gerbracht recently resigned from the COMIDA board, which created the vacancy. 

“By soliciting a new COMIDA board member from the school boards association, this county will show that we believe in an inclusive, responsive government," Wilcox said in a press release. "The perception of COMIDA must be changed and we must ensure all of their projects are subject to rigorous review. This proposed action will be a powerful first step towards that goal.” 

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School improvement committees will report recommendations on Wednesday

Posted By on Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 10:25 AM

Tomorrow afternoon, the public will get to hear the results of more than a month’s brainstorming concerning the Rochester City School District. Shortly after school board President Van White took office, he formed four committees that were charged with coming up with ideas to improve city schools.

The four committees – improving student achievement, increasing parent engagement, reducing the concentration of poverty, and improving student and community safety – are comprised of a diverse sampling of community leaders, parents, and education activists. 
Rochester school board President Van White. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • Rochester school board President Van White.

White says he’s cautiously excited about the recommendations that have come out of the committees.

“This isn’t my plan,” he says. “This is the community’s plan.”

City students will be the first to hear the reports at 4:30 p.m. at the district’s central office, 131 West Broad Street. The meeting is open to the public, but only students will be able to ask committee members questions about their recommendations, such as how they came up with them, and why they support them.

One idea being floated to support teacher development is to have students instruct teachers on how to use social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

Another idea involves elevating the role of parents by moving the office of Parent Engagement — which includes parent liaisons — under the school board’s supervision. Oversight of the office is currently the responsibility of the district's senior administration. White says the recommendation is intended to strengthen the role of parents and to make sure they are being asked to contribute their time and resources in meaningful and effective ways.

Some of the recommendations proposed by the committees will no doubt face challenges, mainly in funding and implementation. Though some of the recommendations wouldn't require additional revenue, others may require shifting money away from other programs important to Superintendent Bolgen Vargas.

White acknowledges that the biggest risk in asking for the community’s help is the chance that the input will be ignored. He says he was repeatedly asked during committee meetings if these recommendations would be treated differently from recommendations made in the past.

“We’ve been here before; why do this?” White says. “But if we can do some of these things, it will change how people view this district.”

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Monday, February 24, 2014

WEEK AHEAD: Fracking lawsuit, county charter review, RGRTA 'special announcement'

Posted By on Mon, Feb 24, 2014 at 9:48 AM

A panel of state Appellate Division justices will hear arguments today on a fracking-related lawsuit.

The Village of Painted Post and SWEPI, a Shell subsidiary, are appealing a previous ruling that halted the village’s plan to sell public water to a private company for fracking. In 2012, the village agreed to allow SWEPI to withdraw up to a million gallons of water a day from its aquifer. In return, the village would receive at least $3.2 million over a five-year period.

But some environmental groups and village residents sued to void the agreement, saying that the village’s environmental review of the deal was inadequate. State Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Fisher sided with those groups and blocked the agreement. But the village and SWEPI say that the village exceeded environmental review requirements, and that’s a key argument in their appeal.

The case will be heard at the Appellate Division, Fourth Department’s courthouse, 50 East Avenue. The day’s session begins at 10 a.m., but there are several cases on the calendar. The judges are unlikely to issue a decision today.


The county’s Charter Review Committee will accept public input during a 5:30 p.m. meeting Thursday at Monroe Community Hospital, 435 East Henrietta Road. Anyone interested in speaking can sign up by calling the Legislature Clerk's Office, (585) 753-1950, or charterreview@monroecounty.gov.

The committee is reviewing the collection of laws that lay out the organization and operation of county government. The members have presented some initial proposals for changes, but most are minor tweaks involving wording or position titles.

But some of the proposals are substantial. For example, one suggests that the county consider eliminate its Civil Service Commission and replace it with a personnel director, as many other counties in the state have done.
Only the County Legislature can change the county charter, which means any proposal would need the Legislature’s approval before it takes effect. BY JEREMY MOULE


The Rochester school board will present students with the recommendations of four committees that have convened for more than a month to offer suggestions to improve city schools. The town hall-style event will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 26, at the district’s central office, 131 West Broad Street.

The committees were formed shortly after school board president Van White took office. The topics White asked the committees to examine are: student achievement, the impact of concentrated poverty, student safety, and parent engagement. BY TIM LOUIS MACALUSO


RGRTA CEO Bill Carpenter and Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren are making a “special announcement,” on Tuesday, according to a press release. The event is at 11 a.m. at the RTS Transit Center, 60 St. Paul Street.

The release didn’t say what the announcement is about, but RGRTA has a number of things going on, such as construction of a new transit center on Mortimer Street, and expansion of its facility on East Main Street. RGRTA plans to use eminent domain to take 21 properties near the facility for the project. BY CHRISTINE CARRIE FIEN 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A public input session without public input

Posted By on Thu, Feb 20, 2014 at 1:42 PM

Sometimes, no news is news.

Let me explain: Last night, the county’s Charter Review Committee held a public input session at Gates Town Hall. The committee is reviewing the set of laws that spell out how county government operates and is organized. But the only substantial thing said during the meeting came from committee vice chair Jeff Adair, who is president of the County Legislature.

“Let the record show that we had no public speakers here tonight,” Adair said, just before adjourning the meeting. (The committee’s chair, Gates town attorney John DiCaro, was absent.)

In other words, the committee members provided the public with a chance to be heard, but nobody showed up aside from some committee members, a couple of us reporters, and some County Legislature staff.

Yes, most of the changes the committee is reviewing are low-stakes. The public probably isn’t going to have a lot to say about employee title changes or fixing grammatical errors, for example. So why would an unattended public input session on those issues matter?

One unattended public input session isn’t quite as serious a problem as low voter turnout in county elections. But it’s still another very small example of public apathy toward the workings of county government. In a county with more than 438,000 voters, quite a few public sector unions, and a few very active political parties, nobody found anything to speak in favor of or against.

The next public input session will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 27, at Monroe Community Hospital, 435 East Henrietta Road. Anyone interested in speaking can sign up by calling the Legislature Clerk's Office at (585) 753-1950 or e-mailing charterreview@monroecounty.gov.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Group says Cuomo should ditch tax cuts, boost school funding

Posted By on Wed, Feb 19, 2014 at 3:03 PM

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2014-15 budget proposal includes some tax cuts for businesses and New York homeowners, but those measures come at the expense of other important programs, says a group of local union leaders, community activists, and faith leaders.

The local coalition is part of a statewide group that’s pushing back against Cuomo’s proposed tax cuts; it held a press conference this afternoon to highlight what its members say are inequities in the proposal. The money that would be lost to the cuts should instead be invested in state programs, particularly education, the coalition members said.

“This budget is one that doesn’t work for all New Yorkers,” said Crescenzo Scipione, who was speaking on behalf of Metro Justice.

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