Friday, July 13, 2012

NEWS BLOG: Freeh slams Joe Paterno- with "regret"

Posted By on Fri, Jul 13, 2012 at 1:54 PM

The report detailing the behavior of officials in the Penn State child-abuse scandal is as welcome as it is shocking. And in releasing his report yesterday, former FBI Director Louis Freeh didn't mince words.

He was obviously furious about what he had learned.

That's a refreshing contrast to the reaction of Penn State sports officials, president, police chief, and others who learned about but preferred to let Jerry Sandusky's sexual abuse of children continue rather than have Penn's sports program tarnished.

It's tarnished now. But that's small stuff compared to the damage done to the children who got within Sandusky's reach.

Among other horrors, Freeh's report concluded that Penn State's revered former coach, Joe Paterno, knew of the concerns about Sandusky and persuaded university officials not to report him to the proper authorities - that Paterno was, in Freeh's words, "an integral part of this active decision to conceal."

And yet as stunning as the Freeh report's revelations are, they're only slightly more disturbing than another of Freeh's comments. The New York Times quotes Freeh as expressing "regret" that the evidence he had uncovered would tarnish Paterno's "legacy."

"We have a great deal of respect for Mr. Paterno," Freeh said.


The abused Penn State boys have soaked up all the regret I have available.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

NEWS BLOG: Aldersley wants Lej seat

Posted By on Thu, Jul 12, 2012 at 9:58 AM

Former Monroe County Legislator Stephanie Aldersley is pursuing her old seat.

Democrat Vinnie Esposito is leaving the Lej on July 20 to take a job as deputy regional director for Empire State Development. Aldersley, a Democrat who now serves on the Irondequoit Town Board, says she wants to be appointed to fill the vacancy. Aldersley served in the Legislature for 10 years, when term limits kicked in. That was five years ago, and she's now eligible to serve in the Lej again. (Republican Legislator Karla Boyce returned to the Legislature this year after leaving in 2004 due to term limits.)

"I loved the work when I was there before," Aldersley says.

She'll appear before the Irondequoit Democratic Committee tonight to ask for its endorsement. She's also prepared to run for the seat in November.

Aldersley was considering a run for county clerk, but she says she decided against it.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

NEWS BLOG: Private charter company to run Michigan school district

Posted By on Wed, Jul 11, 2012 at 12:58 PM

A falling tax base and high student needs has a lot of school districts in poor areas struggling. NPR's All Things Considered offered a look yesterday at what has resulted in one of those districts.

When the district in Muskegon Heights, Michigan - one of that state's poorest - continued to have less money than it needed to operate, the school board voted to turn over the district's operations to the state. The state, in turn, handed control of the district to an emergency manager - who brought in Mosaica Education Inc., a for-profit charter-school company, to run the entire district.

This will be an interesting experiment. The district has been running a deficit of $12 million, the NPR report says. If the district didn't have enough money to operate the schools, will the charter-school company?

Mosaica plans to put some of its own money into the district at the beginning, but it's not a charity. Mosaica will want to recoup its investment and then do what the school district hasn't been able to: provide a good education for Muskegon Heights' children without spending more than the district gets in state, federal, and local tax revenue.

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NEWS BLOG: County's capital plan passes- with MCC move

Posted By on Wed, Jul 11, 2012 at 10:13 AM

Last night the County Legislature passed a plan for construction and infrastructure projects for 2013-2018. The Capital Improvement Program includes Monroe Community College's proposed new downtown campus.

The plan, which doesn't allocate any funding, calls for $32.5 million in county funds for the downtown campus. College officials want to move the Damon City Campus from the Sibley building on East Main Street to buildings on the Kodak campus on State Street. The CIP alludes to the Kodak site, but doesn't mention it by name.

In December, the Legislature will vote on borrowing to fund the 2013 projects. Two-thirds of the Legislature - 20 legislators - will have to approve the bonding.

The Legislature's 18 Republicans voted for the CIP and the 11 Democrats voted against it, which shouldn't come as a surprise. Democrats have said they support Mayor Tom Richards, who wants to keep the campus at the Sibley building. But they also say they haven't ruled out support of the Kodak site and that they want a public debate of the options by the Legislature. Democrats wanted the section of the CIP that dealt with the new downtown campus to use site-neutral language.

Democratic Legislator Vinnie Esposito introduced an amendment to change the language, but Republicans voted it down. Esposito said that the Legislature and the public haven't had a chance to express their opinion on the site. And, he said, the Legislature should have a more exhaustive discussion about where the campus should be.

Before the vote, several speakers weighed in on the downtown campus. Bret Garwood, the city's director of business and housing development, urged the Legislature to consider keeping the campus at Sibley. And Karen Morris, a business law professor at MCC, spoke in favor of the Kodak site, as did a student government representative. (Morris is also an elected Brighton town justice and a Democrat.)

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NEWS BLOG: Taking the community to task

Posted By on Wed, Jul 11, 2012 at 8:35 AM

I suspect we may hear more from Lorenzo Williams.

Williams, a former Rochester school district teacher who recently moved back to the city, had some tough words for the community last night. The setting was a meeting hosted by the Rochester school board to get public input on the temporary -- perhaps permanent -- closure of School 16. The meeting was lightly attended, and even fewer people spoke.

The community has yet to learn that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, Williams said. Most people don't take part in the school district, and then complain after a decision has been made, he said.

Not all the problems in the school district can be traced back to the school board, Williams said.

"It's more of the parents' fault than anybody's fault," he said, his voice rising.

Too many people in the community don't value education, Williams said, and children pick up on and learn to share that apathy.

Williams said he's planning to run for City Council in the future to show the community that one person can make a difference.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

NEWS BLOG: County Lej voting on five-year capital “wish list” – including MCC downtown move

Posted By on Tue, Jul 10, 2012 at 9:18 AM

Tonight the County Legislature will hold its annual vote on a five-year plan for county infrastructure projects. The 2013-2018 Capital Improvement Program includes Monroe Community College's proposal to move its downtown campus.

College officials want to move the Damon City Campus from the Sibley Building on East Main Street to several buildings in the Kodak complex on State Street. Doing so, however, will require $75 million, and roughly half of that money will need to come from the county. College officials and trustees, who already have the support of County Executive Maggie Brooks and the student governments at both MCC campuses, will need the backing of legislators.

Legislature Democrats are standing behind Mayor Tom Richards, who wants MCC to stay at the Sibley building. But they haven't ruled out the Kodak property.

"I don't think anybody in the caucus has made a hard and fast decision," Democratic Leader Ted O'Brien told me earlier this month.

O'Brien says that the Legislature, as a body, hasn't had a chance to go through the pros and cons of the two sites. Democrats want the proposals to be debated, with public input, on the Legislature floor, he says.

He and other Democrats say they have questions about details, including the amount of space MCC actually needs and whether the cost could be reduced for either site. But the Kodak site has been a possibility for two years. Shouldn't the Democrats have reached out to MCC officials and asked these questions long before now? O'Brien says he's "made inquiries" and that the legislators are "trying to find out the answers."

"So far, all we have is the CIP and ultimately maybe a bonding vote, but nothing's come before us where we really get to examine the merits of the issue as we would any other referral," O'Brien says. "So no referral has come before us. We're doing what we can to be as informed as we can, but no referral has come before us, so we haven't had legislative debate."

Some Republicans have also had reservations about the move. Earlier this year, when the MCC board of trustees selected the Kodak site, a couple of legislators said that they weren't sure of the need for a downtown campus at all.

Ultimately, Tuesday's vote isn't the one that really matters, but it'll provide some insight into legislators' thoughts on the project. Some Dems have said they may not vote for the plan if the language isn't right; they want references to the downtown campus to be site-neutral. Some sort of investment will be necessary at either location, especially since MCC officials want the college to own its downtown campus.

The Capital Improvement Program, which contains myriad projects, from roadwork to replacing library computers, requires a simple majority to pass.

The big vote happens in December. That's when the Legislature traditionally votes to authorize bonding for the next year's projects, as listed in the CIP. Any sort of bonding requires a "yes" vote from two-thirds of the legislators; that's 20 votes. There are 18 Republicans in the Legislature and 11 Democrats, which means that at least two Democrats will have to vote in favor of bonding.

But a lot can happen between now and December.

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NEWS BLOG: Obama, Romney, and the Supreme Court’s balance

Posted By on Tue, Jul 10, 2012 at 8:44 AM

Fer heavens' sake: who knew? According to a column in this morning's Wall Street Journal, there are only three conservatives on the Supreme Court: Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Antonin Scalia. And there are four liberals: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy are merely "leaning conservative," Clint Bolick writes.

And so, says Bolick, the next presidential election is a crucial one for conservatives. True conservative Antonin Scalia and "leaning" Kennedy will turn 80 in the next four years. And if one of them leaves the court and Obama is re-elected, the balance on the court could shift.

First of all, 80 is the new... I don't know... the new 60? Scalia and Kennedy show no signs of wearing out. And if Obama is re-elected, I'd bet that both of them would do whatever it took to stay on the court until his term was up.

The bigger concern, of course, is liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who not only, at 79, is the oldest current Justice but has had two bouts of cancer: colon and pancreatic. If Ginsburg leaves the court and Obama is still president, he'll certainly nominate a liberal. But that won't change the balance on the court.

And if Mitt Romney is elected?

No guesswork there. And the balance of the court will most definitely change.

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Monday, July 9, 2012

NEWS BLOG: A downtown campus, from MCC's perspective

Posted By on Mon, Jul 9, 2012 at 10:29 AM

This is a corrected version of this story.

While student safety is the narrative the media has cottoned to, it's just one element driving MCC's proposed move to the Kodak campus on State Street. Emeterio Otero, the college's executive dean, and MCC spokesperson Cynthia Cooper took us on a tour of the Sibley building -- MCC's present home -- and the Kodak site last Friday.

The much-larger Kodak space would allow MCC to grow its enrollment from about 3,000 students to approximately 5,000, Otero said, and there would be space for new and expanded programs. The extra room would also lend much-needed "green" space: places where students can gather to study and socialize. MCC would get a full-service cafeteria -- something it does not have now -- and a larger lecture hall. The biggest hall the downtown campus has now seats 126. That's prohibitive for many events, Otero said, especially if you're trying to draw big-name speakers.

"We know we can draw 200 to 300 people, easily," he said.

MCC occupies two floors in Sibley, using about 140,000 square feet (it has 208,000 square feet, but only uses about 140,000). The Kodak site is approximately 560,000 square feet.

MCC also wants to own its site. Officials say it's a sounder financial investment than renting, which they currently do at Sibley.

"The projected cost of purchasing and renovating the five connected buildings at the Kodak site is $10 million less than the Sibley building," says a brochure given to us by Otero.

Otero said MCC officials looked at about 18 sites in and around the City of Rochester before settling on Kodak.

Politics has injected itself into the site-selection process. Mayor Tom Richards wants MCC to stay at Sibley, and appears to have the support of Democrats in the County Legislature. That's important because some Democratic votes will be needed to approve the borrowing for the project.

The fear is that if MCC doesn't get its way, it might scrap the downtown campus altogether. Neither Otero nor Cooper wanted to address that point during our tour.

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Cooper said. "We're focused on Kodak."

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Friday, July 6, 2012

NEWS BLOG: Killing th future

Posted By on Fri, Jul 6, 2012 at 12:38 PM

I'm seriously depressed

I've been doing some reading on urban violence -- specifically, where these kids are getting their guns.

The answer is terrifying and oppressive: everywhere.

The primary pipeline, according to the stuff I've read, is friends and family. Also: through burglaries, illegal sales at gun shows, corrupt gun dealers, people selling guns on the street, and "straw man" purchases -- where someone buys a gun legally but then gives it to someone else. Resourceful hoodlums can even make their own guns.

A Rochester City Council member recently suggested starting a gun amnesty program. But Police Chief Jim Sheppard says the guns people turn in usually aren't the ones causing the trouble. Check out this quote from an old New York Times story:

"The only time you're going to turn in your gun is when you've already taken care of your business with it. Then you just go out to the corner and get youself [sic] another one."

That's from a gang member back in 1992, although it seems little has changed.

The Rochester Police Department has taken 550 illegal guns off the street so far this year, Sheppard says. That's up from 460 at this time last year.

Think about that number: 550. That's enough to arm every single member of my graduating class, with more than 100 guns left over.

What can we do?

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NEWS BLOG: A couple of fracking films worth watching

Posted By on Fri, Jul 6, 2012 at 11:56 AM

Most people probably think of "Gasland" when they think of fracking documentaries. But really, it's just one of several good films on the topic.

This week, I've had the opportunity to watch a couple of them. One of them, "The Sky is Pink," is a free, short film put together by "Gasland" director Josh Fox. It's essentially Fox's critical response to the fracking plan floated by Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration. Under the plan, high-volume hydraulic fracturing would be allowed in the deepest parts of the Marcellus Shale - in simple terms, the Southern Tier counties - and only in communities that approve of the technique.

The other film, "Split Estate," is from 2009, which means it predates "Gasland." It's based in Colorado and, as the title implies, it deals heavily with the legal concept of split estates. That's where one person owns the surface rights to a piece of property and the federal government or someone else owns the subsurface mineral, oil, or gas rights. As the documentary points out, that means that sometimes drilling rigs unexpectedly pop up near people's homes. And those people have to deal with consequences like contaminated water.

Whether the split-estate scenario exists or is pervasive in New York, I'm not sure. New York does, however, have a compulsory integration law (a Department of Environmental Conservation fact sheet is available here). The law is complicated, but it can force mineral-rights owners into gas leases when a driller has mineral rights for surrounding properties. The film serves as a broader cautionary tale about how some people benefit when a well is imposed somewhere, but others suffer. For that, it's worth checking out.

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