Monday, July 25, 2016

Week Ahead: Events for the week of Monday, July 25

Posted By on Mon, Jul 25, 2016 at 10:36 AM

The Education Committee of the Southwest Common Council will hold a meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 27. There will be updates on Schools 10, 16, 29, and 44, as well as the city school board’s review of the school choice policy. The meeting will be held at the Arnett Branch of the Rochester Public Library, 310 Arnett Boulevard.

The Rochester school board will hold a public hearing regarding PUC Achieve Charter School at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 28, at the district’s central office, 131 West Broad Street. Details of the meeting haven’t been announced. The meeting will be followed by the board’s monthly business meeting at 6:30 p.m., which will be Interim Superintendent Linda Cimusz’s last public meeting with the board. BY TIM LOUIS MACALUSO

The Unite Rochester Community Response Panel, which includes Dr. Marvin A. McMickle, president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, will hold a public forum from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday, July 25, to examine how the Rochester community is responding to racial tensions.

The forum, moderated by Democrat and Chronicle Senior Engagement Editor Julie Philipp, will be held at the School of the Arts auditorium, 45 Prince Street. Blair Monique, School of the Arts graduate, is a special guest. No RSVP is necessary. BY CHRISTINE CARRIE FIEN 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

SUNY Geneseo may take control of School 19

Posted By on Thu, Jul 21, 2016 at 1:54 PM

The Rochester school board is working to establish a partnership between SUNY Geneseo’s School of Education and School 19 on Seward Street in Rochester. The agreement would mark the second time that the school board has looked to a higher education institution to assume the management and supervision of a city school.  The first was East High School, which is now managed by the University of Rochester. 

Letters were sent today to the teachers, staff, and parents at School 19, an elementary school, from school board President Van White and Interim Superintendent Linda Cimusz, informing them of the changes in leadership. Margaret Brazwell, a longtime district administrator, is now acting principal of the school.

The full transition at School 19 could take a year, White says.

The board has applied to the State Education Department for a $500,000, five-year grant to fund the transition, he says. SUNY Geneseo has agreed to assign a full-time professor, Jane Morse, to act as an adviser and develop and implement the transition plan.

The Rochester school district would be responsible for all financial costs associated with the partnership. 

The agreement will be similar to the one between East High School and the University of Rochester in that a School 19 superintendent will report directly to the school board. But it will different from East in that School 19 is much smaller, and, unlike East, teachers at School 19 will be directly responsible for developing a personalized approach to academic achievement that must involve the school community.

The State Education Department must approve the partnership application and authorize the grant, but White says that he is confident that the agreement will receive approval.

School 19 is not a receivership school, but it is a school that the SED has identified as a “priority school” – one that has been consistently among the lowest performing in the state. 

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Reform proposals aimed at COMIDA, county

Posted By on Tue, Jul 19, 2016 at 5:09 PM

The Monroe County Industrial Development Agency's board didn't instigate the I-Square controversy which engulfed the early days of County Executive Cheryl Dinfolo's rookie term.  And yet, the board is now stuck between dueling reform proposals. 

One set of recommendations comes from Dinolfo; they aren't really recommendations so much as directives, but the board does have to adopt them before they become standard policy. The other proposals come from the County Legislature Democrats; caucus leader Cynthia Kaleh presented the proposals during today's COMIDA meeting.

The reform packages differ substantially; Dems have slim odds of getting their proposals through the Republican-controlled County Legislature.

Here's a quick rundown of Dinolfo's recommendations, per a press release she sent out last week:
  • Requiring unspecified training for new COMIDA board members, as well as unspecified annual training for all COMIDA board members, COMIDA staff, and county employees who work on economic development ;
  • Requiring any business that receives more than $1 million worth of incentives to increase its workforce by 20 percent;
  • Changing COMIDA's bylaws to require that board members receive information on matters they'll consider no less than one week in advance of a scheduled meeting;
  • Posting all agreements, including payments-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements, on the agency's website,;
  • Changing COMIDA's bylaws so that board members are term-limited.
Dinolfo made the recommendations in response to the fallout from I-Square, yet her proposals don't really get at the heart of the problem. In case you don't remember: one of Dinolfo's now-former top aides shared information about the I-Square development in Irondequoit that wasn't really secret, but wasn't really public with county Republican Party chair Bill Reilich. And in doing so, he mischaracterized the information. Reilich used the information, which turned out to be wrong, by the way, in a clumsy political attack, which blew up in his face.

In their proposal, Democrats largely target administration officials and the overlap between COMIDA and county government. The Dems also incorporate some proposals they've been pushing for a few years. Here are their proposals:
  • Prohibiting county employees from taking jobs at firms they work with in their official capacity, or with county contractors when the employees were involved in awarding the contracts;
  • Barring COMIDA board members from having contracts with the county (Kaleh didn't say whether any current board members are in this position);
  • Establishing a new local law that prohibits the disclosure of proprietary or insider information for non-governmental use;
  • Prohibiting management and professional employees from serving as elected or party officials;
  • Separating COMIDA's executive director position from the county's director of planning and development. The jobs are currently vacant, and the county is searching for someone to fill them.

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GOP shenanigans live!

Posted By on Tue, Jul 19, 2016 at 4:38 PM

Listen, this election is weird, this Republican convention is weird. The only sane way to consume it all is through the slightly twisted take of an alternative newsweekly. Our sister alt, Pittsburgh CityPaper, is doing a thorough and flat-out hysterical job of live blogh-ing (the "h" is silent) the GOP jamboree in Cleveland. Trust us, you need this in your life.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Nuns on the Bus to make stop in Rochester

Posted By on Mon, Jul 18, 2016 at 9:41 AM

Nuns on the Bus will come to Rochester on Wednesday, July 20. They will visit St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center, 417 South Avenue, at 3:30 p.m. The nuns will also attend the 7 p.m. program, “Caucus to Mend the Gaps” at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, 1100 South Goodman Street.

Twenty Catholic nuns from around the county will visit 13 states and both major political party conventions. The nuns are pushing for economic policies focuses on tax justice, living wages, and family friendly workplaces, according to a press release. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Eastman Museum preps another preservation push

Posted By on Tue, Jul 12, 2016 at 5:00 PM

The George Eastman Museum is in the business of preservation -- preservation of 400,000 photographs, 28,000 movies, and photographic technology. Now it needs to address the preservation of some parts of the house that Eastman himself lived in, which is part of the museum complex on East Avenue.

Upkeep and restoration of the 112-year-old house has occurred in waves over the years. And as anyone who walks around the building can't help but notice, it's time for another one of those waves.

During a public forum last night at the museum, curator Kathy Conner outlined the work that needs to be done, including restoring 68 windows, adding 79 storm windows, restoring 43 shutters, and adding 16 collapsible screens.

Partially rotten windows on the historic mansion are part of the reason behind Eastman Museums's most recent preservation push. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Partially rotten windows on the historic mansion are part of the reason behind Eastman Museums's most recent preservation push.

The estimated cost for the project is $650,277, and the museum is preparing to request $426,880 in grants from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. To help secure that, the museum is seeking public support-- asking for testimonials, in effect, about the museum's importance to the community and how the condition of the historic mansion directly impacts individual people.

The museum's request: that its supporters send those statements to city, county, and state elected officials by July 25. More information is available from Ruth Wagner, And museum officials are asking supporters to also send copies of their letters to Wagner.

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Friday, July 8, 2016

STORIFY: Black Lives Matter rally, Dallas police shootings

Posted By on Fri, Jul 8, 2016 at 3:46 PM

A collection of news about the Dallas police shootings and the local Black Lives Matter rally

Violence against black men, against police, rocks country

Posted By on Fri, Jul 8, 2016 at 11:21 AM

The national psyche is reeling from the violence of the last few days. Two black men have been killed by police in two cities, and last night, five police officers were killed and seven others injured by a sniper at a Dallas Black Lives Matter demonstration. The incidents are already shaping national conversations about race, race relations, and the often-strained relationship between police and the black community. 

Unfortunately, the turmoil is also an opportunity for unscrupulous people to indulge the red-meat brigade. Republican Wendy Long, who is challenging US Senator Chuck Schumer this fall, tried to link the Dallas shootings with the Black Lives Matter movement, although police have not made that connection. Police have only said that the suspect wanted to kill white police officers.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, the Rochester Police Department, and local clergy held a moment of silence this afternoon for the Dallas victims. 

"It is so easy to tear each other apart, to tear each other down," Warren said. "We are one Rochester. We are one America.” 

And Black Lives Matter will hold a rally later today in response to the recent police shootings of two black men. 

In Baton Rouge, police pinned Alton Sterling to the ground and repeatedly shot him at point-blank range. Philando Castile was shot and killed by police during a traffic stop in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota. He was behind the wheel of his car, reaching for his license and registration, when an officer shot him several times; his girlfriend — who livestreamed the immediate aftermath on Facebook — and her daughter were in the car. 

  • The Rev. Lewis Stewart
"These killings were unjustified and horribly demonstrated the use of excessive police force, which was unreasonable," said the Rev. Lewis Stewart, president of United Christian Leadership Ministries of Western New York, at a press conference this afternoon. "How is the black community to trust law enforcement?"

Part of United Christian's message is that Rochester needs a revamped civilian review board with subpoena power to conduct independent investigations when police officers use force. The review board is a tool, Stewart says, and it would help build community confidence that officers who use undue force are held accountable.

Currently, complaints against Rochester police officers are handled by the department's Professional Standards Section. If the complaints involve the use of force or potential criminal behavior by a police officer, the PSS investigations are then reviewed by a Civilian Review Board, which is run by the Center for Dispute Settlement. But many critics say that the process isn't good enough because in the end, the police chief can overrule the board's decisions. 

Rochester Police Chief Michael Ciminelli said earlier today that lack of community trust is discouraging. People don't see all the time and effort that police put into trying to build camaraderie with the community, he said, and many times, those efforts do pay off. 

"It's very, very troubling to hear people say they don't trust the police," he said.

Stewart also said at yesterday's press conference that police officers need racial justice education and anti-racism training, as opposed to the diversity training they currently receive.

The Black Lives Matter rally is at 4 p.m. Friday at the Liberty Pole in solidarity with the people of Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights, the St. Paul suburb where Castile was killed. Organizers also want to bring attention to the death of Richard Gregory Davis, who died after he was Tased by police last May, and the death of Rochester native India Cummings in February, while she was an inmate at the Erie County Holding Center. Erie County officials haven't offered any explanation for her death, says Adrian Elim, one of the head organizers for B.L.A.C.K., a Rochester activist and black leadership group.

  • Photo by John Schlia
  • Adrian Elim
Elim says organizers demand an end to what he calls state-sanctioned violence against black people. Police keep using force and then investigating themselves, only to conclude that they didn't do anything wrong, he says. People are hurting, they are fed up, and they running out of patience with a system they don't believe in anymore, he says.

"It doesn't matter with black people, we could have our hands up, they shoot us; we could be pinned to the ground, they shoot us; we're walking down the street, they will shoot us; we'll be playing in the park, they will shoot us; calling for help, they will shoot us; sleeping in our beds, they will shoot us," Elim says.  "It doesn't matter if we're 5 years old, 12 years old, 80 years old, or 22 years old, nothing seems to stop them. "

Around 600 people have said that they plan to attend the rally, according to the Facebook invite. 

"We, as black people, do not get to live what is considered a normal American life," Elim says. "We are continually traumatized and re-traumatized again and again and again. No longer is this community just going to act like this is just another day at the office, under any circumstances. When our lives are continually disrupted on the daily, we are going to disrupt, we are going to stop everything until this stops."

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Child lead numbers up from last year, but down overall

Posted By on Tue, Jun 28, 2016 at 4:56 PM

This post has been corrected.

More Monroe County children tested positive for exposure to lead last year than the year prior according to results released today, but the numbers are far below where they were a decade ago. 

Children under age 6 are routinely screened for elevated lead levels in their blood, which indicate exposure and which can lead to several learning and behavioral problems. Public health researchers say that there is no acceptable level of lead exposure, but concentrations greater than 5 micrograms per deciliter put children at increased risk of complications.

In 2015, 206 Monroe County children were found to have blood-lead levels above 10 micrograms per deciliter, compared to 139 in 2014. By comparison, 1,019 children had blood levels above that threshold in 2003. No reason for the increase was given. 

An additional 782 children tested between 5 and 9 micrograms per deciliter in 2015.  The county started tracking children testing within that range in 2013, after the CDC revised its threshold for what it considers an elevated blood level. That year, 689 children had blood test results that fell within the 5 to 9 micrograms per deciliter.

Child lead exposure is a particular problem in city neighborhoods, many of which have older houses with layers of lead-based paint. But it's a problem in some parts of suburbia, too.

Child health advocates credit the long-term decrease in child lead poisoning to city laws requiring landlords to get all rental properties inspected for the presence of lead. 

"In the past year, 988 Rochester area children had unacceptably high blood lead levels—enough to fill more than 40 kindergarten classrooms," said Mel Callan, co-chair of the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning, in a press release sent out this afternoon. "Children are particularly susceptible to the irreversible and devastating effects of lead poisoning. We must raise the awareness of families to get their homes tested for lead hazards and get their children tested at ages 1 and again at 2 to avoid any possible developmental damage.”

2003_2015 Blood Lead Screening Data by jmouleatcity

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Adam Bello: Democrats' next great hope?

Posted By on Mon, Jun 27, 2016 at 3:06 PM

Monroe County Democrats have struggled to win countywide seats in recent years. But Adam Bello, the new county clerk, may be the party’s next great hope.

County Clerk Adam Bello: A Democrat in a high-profile county position. - FILE PHOTO
  • County Clerk Adam Bello: A Democrat in a high-profile county position.
County Clerk Adam Bello: A Democrat in a high-profile county position.
In Monroe County, the clerk’s office has served as a stepping stone to higher office, particularly the county exec’s seat; Dinolfo and her predecessor, Maggie Brooks, followed that path. Under state law, New York’s governor appoints a replacement when a county clerk’s position becomes vacant, and in March, Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed Bello to succeed Republican Cheryl Dinolfo, the new county executive.

Bello has been pegged as an up-and-comer in the party for a while. He spent close to a decade working government and political staff jobs: he was an aide to state Assembly member Joe Morelle, an administrator for Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley (before she became a Republican), and executive director of the Monroe County Democratic Committee. His work as Irondequoit supervisor – particularly his focus on ousting the less-than-successful owner of Medley Centre – boosted his profile.

And he’s now in a position where he could be a formidable county exec candidate in 2019, a possibility some Democrats have floated but which Bello says he hasn’t considered. First, however, he has to win the county clerk’s seat in 2016; his appointment is good only through the end of the year. He faces a challenge from Republican Cheryl Rozzi, the Greece town clerk and former clerk of the County Legislature.

The GOP will fight hard to get the office back, and it has the better track record in county elections. County Democrats have struggled in recent years with fund-raising and rifts between some key members; the party probably won’t be an obstacle to Bello, but it may not have the capacity to provide a lot of support.

Three months into the clerk’s job, Bello has begun efforts to help local governments rein in zombie properties, to reopen a downtown Department of Motor Vehicles office, and to improve the department’s use of technology. The clerk’s position already gives him countywide visibility and a platform for talking about county issues, and if he stays in office for a few years, he’ll get more public exposure. That could be an important benefit should he seek higher office at some point.

Republicans, of course, don’t want that. The moment Bello was appointed, the GOP went into attack mode. County Republican Party Chair Bill Reilich said that Bello was abandoning the Irondequoit residents who just reelected him as supervisor. (Bello had run unopposed). He also said he hoped Bello wasn’t using the clerk’s office as “a stepping stone for county executive” – an interesting line of attack from Reilich, since Dinolfo and Brooks had made that jump.

Reilich’s initial swipe at Bello backfired due to his ill-conceived claim that a wildly popular Irondequoit development, I-Square, was struggling. I-Square’s developers, Mike and Wendy Nolan, vigorously protested the claim, and their many supporters sided with them. The result was that Reilich had sparked a clumsy scandal of his own, one that led Dinolfo to sack one of her deputies and caused four Monroe County Industrial Development Agency board members to quit in protest over the scandal.

“It was just such raw politics injecting itself into an economic development project that was popular in town; it was successful in town,” Bello said in a recent City interview. “That's why you had this immediate reaction from residents and taxpayers.”

Bello and his staff also recently discovered that a week after Bello took office, the Dinolfo administration started funding three auditor positions out of the clerk’s budget. The auditors in question do work related to the clerk’s office, but previously their positions were funded through the finance department. Bello and his staff have been talking with county finance officials about the matter, which Bello says could impact his ability to fill vacant customer service positions.

County Finance Director Robert Franklin says that the change was part of a broader effort to make sure that staff members are budgeted under the departments where they actually do their work. That effort started in 2014, he says.

Some Democrats view the budget change as politically motivated, but in the interview, Bello stopped short of that.

“I question the timing of it,” he said.

Bello’s a young guy, so he’s still got quite a few years left in his political career. He’s straightforward and personable. He’s able to steer conversations back to his message, but he’s not afraid to talk in detail about issues or policies.

He’s also developed a knack for seizing on issues that resonate with people. In Irondequoit, he and the Town Board developed laws, including a registration requirement, meant to address vacant and abandoned properties, particularly those tied up in the foreclosure process.

These zombie properties, as they’re popularly called, are a high-profile, complicated problem. Bello said he took the clerk appointment because he saw an opportunity to use the office to work on the issue, which is important to him. His first action as county clerk was to convene a task force to examine the issue and recommend solutions for local, county, and state governments. It’s supposed to issue a report in the fall.

Some critics initially dismissed the effort as pointless, since the clerk’s office can’t do anything about the troubled properties. But Bello said the task force is already yielding results.

“After some of our task force members attended a meeting of other local officials – code enforcement officials, elected officials – relative to vacant properties, it became clear to the task force members that providing certain pieces of information that our office had would be helpful,” he said.

The result: the clerk’s office is now providing local governments with a monthly list of the foreclosure notices it receives. And it’s also going to start providing foreclosure judgments to communities, so officials know who is legally responsible for upkeep of foreclosed properties.

Bello is also reviving the issue of a downtown DMV office, which the past few Democratic county clerk candidates have proposed. He and his staff are currently evaluating how they can expand DMV services in the city, he said.

“Right now, city residents are served with a mobile unit that sets up at City Place three days a week, and then it's also at the County Parks Department two days a week,” Bello said. “They're not open like our other DMV’s for the full day.”

He and his staff are also pursuing an e-filing system for the clerk’s office. The idea is to make filing different documents – especially legal papers – more convenient and efficient, and to cut down on lines at the office, he said.

The county administration’s changes to the clerk’s office budget may not have been truly political, given Franklin’s explanation that similar changes previously happened in other departments. But it is an election year, and since the Republican administration controls the flow of money to the Democrat-run clerk’s office, the move at least looked suspicious.

Bello said that nobody from the administration told him about the change, or why it was necessary at that particular time. It’s a departure from the arrangement Dinolfo and Brooks had as clerk, and from the 2016 budget the County Legislature approved last year, he said.

The changes, he argued, should have been made in the context of the 2017 budget process, which is already underway.

“There's a time and a place for politics,” he said. “There's going to be an election; let's not be naive about that. There's an election that's going to be in the fall. That's months away. But there should never be a decision that impacts the operation of the government simply because of a political consideration. That should never be the case. We didn't do it in Irondequoit, I'm not doing it here in the clerk's office, and my expectation is they wouldn't do that across the hallway."

And speaking of the election and political considerations, Bello said he’s focused entirely on the clerk’s office.

“I took this appointment at some considerable risk,” he said. “I'd just won a two-year term in Irondequoit and, based on the issues that were really important to me that I was trying to work on in the Town of Irondequoit, I felt like the county clerk's office was a very good position to be able to attack those issues in a better way.”

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