Monday, June 13, 2016

COMMENTARY: After Orlando, I'm still not ready to give up hope

Posted By on Mon, Jun 13, 2016 at 1:50 PM

I am tired. I am so tired and yet I can’t sleep. I’m tired of the hate and rancor toward members of the LGBT community. I’m tired of people who use their religious beliefs to justify horrific actions against others. I’m tired of those who exploit our differences instead of celebrating our common humanity. I’m tired of seeing loved ones grieve over the lives of those lost to the senseless and preventable gun violence in this country.

And most of all, I’m tired of politicians who make empty statements about prayers and condolences for the families of victims. Their words incense me, and then I start to feel myself become hateful.
Orlando vigil
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Orlando vigil

Photos from last night's vigil for the victims of the massacre in Orlando. The vigil was held at Bachelor Forum on University Avenue.

Click to View 16 slides

Like so many Americans, I thought the events of September 11 would lead to a re-evaluation of our policies concerning the Middle East. I thought the election of our first black president would change our attitudes about race. And I thought after the mass shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary School we would surely address senseless gun violence in this country.

But the changes I anticipated didn't occur. 

America is at a crossroads much like it was in the late 1960’s and early ‘70’s. Almost every institution we hold dear is under intense public scrutiny. Our values, freedoms, and lifestyle are being tested both abroad and at home. We often don’t trust those who don’t look or speak or love like us over there and next door. It’s as if our national psyche is undergoing some kind of transition, and we don’t know where we’re headed or what we really want. It’s a bit scary.

While watching the news coverage about the mass shooting Saturday night at the gay nightclub in Orlando, my thoughts focused on the raw fear and horror those men and women in the club must have felt. I could imagine them begging for their lives. For several hours I watched the blinking red and blue lights and images of people embraced in sadness outside of the club. I watched the alleged shooter’s father speak about his son’s actions, his ex-wife recall his propensity for violence, and the crawl across the bottom of the screen saying that Donald Trump thinks that President Obama should step down.

I thought of my husband, Daryl, and the life we’ve had together, and all the changes we’ve seen in our lifetime: the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality. And then I thought of Walt Whitman and the first lines to his epic poem “Leaves of Grass.”

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

Whitman was an enigma to me. He experienced such deep rejection and he witnessed the unimaginable horrors of the Civil War. He sat with soldiers dying of disease and injuries and wrote letters home to their loved ones for them. Still, I always hear optimism and hope in Whitman’s words. He believed in the human spirit and he had hope for America.

As tired as I find myself today, I have hope. As I told my editor, Chris Fien, I believe we’ll someday find cures for cancer and AIDS. One day we’ll even figure out how to live on the moon and deep in the ocean.

And I still hope we can find a way to love each other and live peacefully, without prejudice or hate. If we lose hope, we lose everything. 

Week Ahead: Events for the week of Monday, June 13

Posted By on Mon, Jun 13, 2016 at 10:02 AM

The Bachelor Forum and the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley will host a community vigil at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 13, at the Forum, 670 University Avenue, to remember the lives lost in the Orlando mass shooting over the weekend. 

A public meeting
on the pending police body camera program will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 13, at the Southwest Neighborhood Service Center, 500 Norton Street. Rochester police are supposed to start wearing body cameras next month. Implementation will take place by section, with the Clinton Section going first.

At noon on Monday, June 13, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will speak during the groundbreaking for the Sibley Building renovations. The ceremony will take place in the main atrium of the Sibley Building, 260 East Main Street. Hochul will also help other state and city leaders cut the ribbon to marking the opening of the Port of Rochester marina. That’s at 10 a.m. today (Monday, June 13), at the corner of River Street and Portside Drive.

The Rochester school board is expected to vote on a new code of conduct for the school district on Thursday, June 16. The vote will happen at the board’s monthly business meeting at 6 p.m. at central office, 131 West Broad Street.

There’s a push to move the district away from a punitive approach to discipline and more toward restorative justice practices. But Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association, says that proper supports, such as alternatives to suspension, do not exist and he therefore does not support the new policy. BY CHRISTINE CARRIE FIEN

Living in Harmony and several other environmental advocacy groups will hold a vegan potluck at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 14.

Inspired by the documentary films “Cowspiracy” and “Plant Pure Nation,” which describe the serious impact of the animal agriculture industry on the environment, LIH hopes to introduce more people to vegan eating.

The dish to pass should not include any meat, dairy, eggs, or honey. The event will be held at Henrietta United Church of Christ, 1400 Lehigh Station Road.  BY TIM LOUIS MACALUSO 

The State Senate and Assembly will likely end their sessions on Thursday, though the chambers still have plenty of issues they could – and, arguably, should – take up.

Top of the list for Rochester is a bill that would release funding for the second phase of the city school district’s school modernization program. Democratic Assembly member David Gantt is blocking the bill; he says nobody talked to him about the second phase of the construction project.

The Assembly and Senate are also considering legislation that would ultimately allow three county-linked local development corporations to dissolve. The legislation would allow Monroe County to borrow money so it can buy out its contracts with the three quasi-government organizations. Two of the LDC’s were at the center of a recently concluded bid rigging case.

The chambers could also pass legislation that would allow ridesharing services like Uber to operate Upstate, could take up bills to legalize fantasy sports gambling, and could pass ethics reforms (though this action seems increasingly unlikely). The Legislature could also pass measures to help address New York’s growing opioid abuse crisis; the legislation could mirror recommendations from a state task force. BY JEREMY MOULE

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Project aims to expand solar access

Posted By on Thu, Jun 9, 2016 at 10:57 AM

A 72 kilowatt solar array on Long Acre Farm in Macedon powers the business' ice cream shop and winery, as well as three family homes. - PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE
  • A 72 kilowatt solar array on Long Acre Farm in Macedon powers the business' ice cream shop and winery, as well as three family homes.
Residential solar power has grown rapidly in recent years, fueled largely by improved panel efficiency, decreased equipment and installation costs, and aggressive state and federal tax incentives.

But some groups have limited ability to tap into solar. Renters and condo owners usually can't install arrays on their buildings, for example. And not all homeowners have the financial means to buy and install panels; some houses simply do not have roofs or yards with adequate exposure to the sun.

Renewables advocates have long viewed community solar programs as a solution to these problems, but the approach wasn't an option in New York until last year, when the state Senate and Assembly passed legislation to enable it. Now, most Monroe County households have access to one such program.

Sustainable Energy Development announced a community solar program for customers in Rochester Gas and Electric's service area yesterday. The company, which is headquartered in the Town of Ontario, is partnering with Vermont-based Sun Common for the initiative. In simple terms, they're building large arrays and selling the power to consumers at shares ranging from $30 to $300, says Kevin Schulte, SED's chief executive officer. Generally, consumers should expect to pay about 10 percent less than they would on their RG&E bills, he says. 

"I think community solar is the next step in the evolution of clean energy," Schulte said during a press conference. The companies announced the community solar program at Long Acre Farm in Macedon, where SED built a 72 kilowatt array that powers the farm's ice cream shop and winery, as well as three family homes.

SED and Sun Common  are trying to sign up 300 customers before they begin construction on a new array. This array will have a 1 megawatt capacity, and will be capable of powering around 350 households, says George McConochie, chief operations officer for SED.  

More information on the SED project, including sign-up details, is available at

SED expects to bring a separate, 300 kilowatt array online in August, say company officials. It will be able to power about 30 households, and shares in it are already spoken for.

Rocspot, a nonprofit focused on boosting solar installations in City of Rochester neighborhoods, is also working on a community solar effort . Its goal is to have 6 megawatts of solar installed in the city and open to low- and moderate-income households by mid-2017, says Susan Spencer, the organization's president and found. Rocspot's partner in that effort is the Rocky Mountain Institute, a renewable energy think-tank and advocacy group.

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RCSD reportedly makes its choice

Posted By on Thu, Jun 9, 2016 at 9:27 AM

Several sources say that Luvelle Brown has been picked to be the next superintendent of the Rochester City School District. He replaces Bolgen Vargas, who left in December 2015. Brown is currently superintendent of the Ithaca City School District. The Rochester school district would not confirm Brown's selection this morning, and because no contract has been signed yet, the deal could still fall apart. 

Linda Cimusz is Rochester's interim superintendent.

Brown earned his doctorate in education at the University of Virginia, and his career includes classroom teaching as well as administrative and supervisory experience.

He was included in the National School Boards Association’s “20-to-Watch” in 2014 and that same year, he was invited to the White House to participate in an education summit.

The search process for superintendent has been closed, despite early comments from board president Van White that it would be transparent and would include opportunities for public input.

White and other board members say that they were swayed to keep the process closed by the professional search firm they hired; many high-caliber candidates wouldn’t apply for the position unless their application was kept confidential.

The Ithaca school board renewed Brown’s contract last year for five more years. While he did not receive a pay raise from his starting salary of $185,711 in 2011, it did include “$61,872 in benefits, and $14,370 in other compensation,” according to an article in the Ithaca Journal.

In the same article, Ithaca’s school board credited Brown with improving the graduation rate, increasing grade-level reading skills, and narrowing the achievement gap for minority and special education students.
The New York State Education Department’s Report Card for Ithaca showed that in 2014, 44 percent scored proficient on ELA scores for grades 3-8, and 47 percent in math. Scores climbed in 2015 with 46 percent proficient in ELA and 54 percent proficient in math.

But Ithaca is not only a much smaller district than Rochester’s with just over 5,000 students, the enrollment is almost the reverse of Rochester’s in demographic terms. Only 9 percent of Ithaca’s students are African American, 5 percent are Hispanic, and 66 percent are white. Less than 40 percent are economically disadvantaged and just 5 percent are English language learners.

Brown, in most respects, would be making an upward career move. The Rochester school district, the third largest in the state, is one of Monroe County’s largest employers, with an annual budget that is closing in on $1 billion.

But the district also faces some of the most serious and deeply entrenched academic and managerial challenges in the country. It has: the lowest four-year graduation rate of New York’s big five school districts; one of the lowest graduation rates for black males in the country; a culture of instability and racial inequities; and a sizable list of schools tagged by the state as low performing.

In Rochester, Brown would need to grapple with a student population that is largely black and Latino, and a teaching staff that is largely white. And Rochester’s childhood poverty rate puts it on par with cities such as Detroit and New Orleans.

Brown would report to a school board that is decidedly hands-on in its supervision: an issue that proved untenable for former superintendent Vargas. He’ll need to negotiate with a notoriously strong teachers union leader, and he’ll have to collaborate with Mayor Lovely Warren, who isn’t always keen on collaboration with the city school district.

Last April, for instance, Warren proposed putting the most troubled schools into a separate district that would be managed by a company or organization that she helped choose. The New York State Education Department told Warren that her plan isn’t permitted by state law. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Barnhart files to run against Bronson

Posted By on Tue, Jun 7, 2016 at 4:18 PM

Rachel Barnhart - PROVIDED PHOTO
  • Rachel Barnhart
Rachel Barnhart is in.

This afternoon, she confirmed that she's filed paperwork with the state Board of Elections to run for the 138th Assembly District, which means she's pursuing a Democratic primary against the incumbent, Harry Bronson. 

Barnhart left her job as anchor at WROC channel 8 last month, fueling speculation that she planned to run against Bronson. But the rumor mill had been buzzing well before then. 

To get on the ballot, Barnhart will need to gather enough signatures from registered Democrats in the district, which includes part of Rochester, Henrietta, and Chili.  Candidates can start passing petitions today, and must turn them in between July 11 and 14.

Republicans have endorsed former county legislator and former Monroe County Youth Bureau head Bob Zinck. He may face a primary from Peter Vazquez, who has said that he plans to make a third try for the seat.

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[UPDATE] Weird connections, checkered histories mark Midtown proposals

Posted By on Tue, Jun 7, 2016 at 1:31 PM

UPDATE 10 a.m., June 8 —- It's now being reported that the Senecas didn't submit a proposal. The city apparently put the information together based on its discussions with the Seneca Nation. 


OK, so we’ll call them the casino proposal and the “anti” casino proposal.

The City of Rochester received two project pitches for the chunk of land known as parcel 5 at Midtown downtown. One, as expected, is a combined casino-performing arts center submitted by the Seneca Nation of Indians.

The other, which seems less like a proposal than a thesis statement, is an offer to create 400 jobs and a promise to assemble state and local cognoscenti to finally make a downtown performing arts center happen.
The latter was submitted on behalf of Thomas Wilmot, chair of Wilmorite Management Group.

Frankly, though, I don’t know why the city would take a chance on Wilmorite after what happened with the Sibley Building. (A Wilmorite company that technically owned the building defaulted on promised payments and essentially skated on millions in debt. And the situation kept Sibley, a major downtown anchor, in stasis for years.)

The Senecas say that they’ll build a casino, but they’re restricted to only video game terminals and video slots. Their proposal also promises a 3,000-seat performing arts center and job preferences for residents of the city’s most challenged neighborhoods.

The presumption is that RBTL would program the PAC. But the Seneca Nation would undoubtedly seek to make the Midtown parcel sovereign land and if that sovereignty applies to the PAC, too, I’m not sure how RBTL fits in. Maybe RBTL and the nation work out a side agreement?

In its proposal, Wilmorite says that it will get Rochester residents jobs at Lago, Finger Lakes Raceway, and Batavia OTB and bus them there for free. The company will go into greater detail on its entire pitch, it says, if and when the city shows interest.

At least part of Wilmorite’s proposal is undoubtedly motivated by self-interest. The company certainly wants to protect its Lago casino, which is being built in Seneca County.

An interesting point in all this is that Delaware North is named by Wilmorite as one of the companies that has committed to providing some of the 400 jobs for Rochester residents. But Delaware, which owns Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack, tried unsuccessfully to block Wilmorite’s Lago casino in court. 

And the D&C reported last week that Delaware offered donations to local ministers in exchange for speaking out against a Rochester casino. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Week Ahead: Events for the week of June 6

Posted By on Mon, Jun 6, 2016 at 9:39 AM

Edgewater Resources will hold a community information session on the proposed mixed-use development at the Port of Rochester from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 8, at the Port Terminal Building, 1000 N. River Street. 

City staff from the departments of Environmental Services and Neighborhood and Business Development will also participate in the session.

Edgewater Resources has been selected to develop 2.8 acres of city-owned land in the new Marina Zoning District between North River Street and Lake Avenue as a mix of residential and commercial uses.

The company has submitted a revised site plan for the proposal, which includes a 69-room hotel, 27 condominiums, and retail spaces. The city has opened a 20-day public comment period on the proposal, which ends June 15.

Edgewater will provide drawings and architectural renderings of the proposed project at the meeting and company representatives will be available to answer questions. City employees will be available to discuss the site plan review process and the city’s public investment at the new marina and the Port Terminal Building. SG Marina, the city’s marina operator, will also be available to discuss marina operations.

To view the site plan: Written comments on the proposal can be mailed to the Bureau of Planning and Zoning, City Hall, 30 Church St., Rochester, NY, 14614. Or e-mail to

A public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 7, on a proposed new housing project, Cobbs Hill Village, at 645 Norris Drive across from Lake Riley. 

Rochester Management wants to build a four-story, 52-unit affordable apartment complex, but the project has raised concerns that it will alter the character of Cobbs Hill Park and block views. 

Tuesday's meeting is at New Life church, at the corner of Monroe Avenue and Rosedale Street. 

City Council’s review of Mayor Lovely Warren’s proposed 2016-2017 budget continues this week. Warren has proposed a $517 million plan that increases spending but lowers taxes for homeowners and businesses.

Council will hold hearings from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 7. Council sets aside a block of time to publicly review the budget of each city department:

• Neighborhood and Business Development, 9:35 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.;
• Information Technology, 11:20 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.;
• Finance, 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.
• Police Department, 3:05 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
• Emergency Communications, 4:35 p.m. to 5 p.m.

A hearing on the Rochester City School District's proposed 2016-2017 budget will take place from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, June 8. Council will hold a joint public hearing on the budget with the Rochester school board at 5:30 p.m. the same day. 

All of the meetings/hearings will take place in Council chambers at City Hall, 30 Church Street. BY CHRISTINE CARRIE FIEN 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Lej backs law tied to dissolving LDC's

Posted By on Fri, Jun 3, 2016 at 11:37 AM

County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo says that she expects to refinance the debts and contracts of three county-linked local development corporations and then dissolve the quasi-governmental organizations by the end of the year.

Those plans depend on whether the state Assembly and Senate pass legislation allowing the county to borrow money to buy out those contracts and debts. Republicans Joe Robach and Rich Funke sponsor the legislation in the Senate, while Democrats Joe Morelle and Harry Bronson sponsor a matching bill in the Assembly. This morning, the County Legislature unanimously passed a home rule measure, which is basically an official communication stating that the county government wants the law.

Dinolfo says that the state legislation is the first in a series of steps that the county needs to take in order to assume the functions performed by the LDC's and the assets they hold.  Ultimately, taking over those functions and assets will save the county more than $12 million, Dinolfo says.

"Certainly it creates more transparency and accountability," Dinolfo said to reporters after this morning's Legislature meeting. "These are essential government functions that really do belong in the hands of county government and the people who are here, so they can provide essential oversight of those functions."

Dinolfo wants to dissolve Monroe Security and Safety Systems LDC (M3S), Upstate Telecommunications Corporation (UTC), and Monroe Newpower.  She campaigned on eliminating the county's LDC's, particularly M3S and UTC, which were at the center of a recently-concluded public corruption case.  Dinolfo told legislators that as she and her staff reviewed the details of M3S and UTC, they found that the county could save around $8 million by taking over the functions of Monroe Newpower and dissolving it.

Legislature President Anthony Daniele has been in the Legislature since 2008 and his caucus has defended the county's use of LDC's.  The concept of LDC's is useful in all governments, he said, but by eliminating the three LDC's in question, the county will realize cost savings from lower interest rates. Dissolving the LDC's will also put the public's mind at ease, he said.

"We couldn't forsee problems in the leadership at the time we put the LDC's into place," he said.

Democrats disagree. For years, they've pointed out that LDC's operate without adequate oversight, creating an environment ripe for abuse. When the Legislature created M3S, Democrats tried to attach a provision requiring all of its contracts to come to the Lej for approval. The Republican majority rejected that idea. Ultimately, however, rigged and inflated contracts involving M3S became an issue in a criminal case brought by the state Attorney General's Office.

Democratic Minority Leader Cynthia Kaleh supported the home rule message and state legislation, and said she's glad to be a part of cleaning up the LDC's. But she also gave "a hearty but sober — and I hate to say it — I told you so."

Below is a video of Kaleh speaking to reporters. 

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Thursday, June 2, 2016

County closer to dissolving troubled LDC's

Posted By on Thu, Jun 2, 2016 at 1:45 PM

Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo got the local development corporation legislation she wanted from the Senate and Assembly. The County Legislature will meet at 8:15 a.m. on Friday to vote on a technical measure necessary for the State Legislature to pass the bills.

Under current state law, the county can borrow money to buy or repair property, but not to pay off service contracts. The state legislation would provide Monroe County with specific exemptions to that prohibition so it can pay off service contracts tied to three local development corporations: Monroe Security and Safety Systems Local Development Corporation (M3S), Upstate Telecommunications Corporation (UTC), and Monroe Newpower Corporation.

The legislation is a crucial aspect of Dinolfo's plan to dissolve the LDC's, two of which —  M3S and UTC — were at the center of a recently concluded public corruption trial. 

Republicans Joe Robach and Rich Funke sponsor the Senate legislation, while Democrats Joe Morelle and Harry Bronson sponsor the Assembly measure.  The legislation would allow the county to issue 20-year bonds to pay off the following contracts:
  • An agreement between the county and Monroe Newpower , under which the county buys energy from the LDC;
  • A county public safety communications contract with M3S;
  • A county information technology contract with Upstate Telecommunications.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

UPDATED: Bello says Dinolfo is messing with his budget

Posted By on Wed, Jun 1, 2016 at 12:54 PM

  • Adam Bello
This post has been updated with a comment from the county administration.

It's going to be a long haul to the November elections. And not just with the presidential race; the local stuff is going to be pretty heated, too, by the looks of things.

The latest skirmish involves the office of County Clerk Adam Bello, a Democrat who was appointed to the post in March by Governor Andrew Cuomo, and the administration of County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo, a Republican. And it centers on the clerk's office budget.

The administration started taking funding for three auditor positions from the clerk's office budget on April 1, a move that will add $120,000 in costs for 2016, according to a statement from Bello's office.

The administration didn't inform Bello's office of the change, the statement says; staff uncovered it during routine budget monitoring.  The release says that as far back as staff can tell, the positions were never paid through the clerk's budget. The 2016 budget placed the three auditor positions under the Finance Department.

Continue reading »

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Italian Cultural Day @ City Hall

Let's Move For Better Health @ Central Library, Kate Gleason Auditorium

Squash-tober Fest @ St. John's Meadows/Briarwood Bldg.

View all of today's events »

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    • The fact that clerks before her did it means one thing. Cheryl Dinolfo has no…

    • on October 4, 2016
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