. . click this link for the discussion below of the Polimeni Sidewalk Plan.
update (Nov. 6, 2019): Last night’s election results [click on image to the left from Times Union] for Schenectady City Council were quite disappointing to those of us who had hoped to achieve a more deliberative and better-informed City Council, to make its dynamics and processes wiser and more small-d democratic. The entire 4-person Democratic Party slate was elected, with a surprising loss by independent Vince Riggi, our “voice of reason (in the wilderness)”. [see Gazette article; TU Election Results] I hope newcomer Carmel Patrick will resist the “mushroom management” style of Mayor Gary McCarthy, and demand to be better informed about facts, goals, alternatives, legal requirements, etc., before voting on matters before the Council.
Congratulations to Leesa Perazzo on her impressive re-election result. Leesa will need to be more vigilant and persevering than ever.
. . Gazette‘s Halloween Trick: At the bottom of this post I respond to the Gazette editorial that endorsed John Polimeni for re-election.
THE BEST THING we can do right now is to continue to work toward this November election, to DENY MAYOR GARY McCARTHY HIS NEARLY CONSTANT FOUR-VOTE MAJORITY of the same four Democratic Council members. If he knows that he could lose any particular resolution he presents, Mayor McCarthy will have to:
- Seek Council and Public input early in the legislative process
- Provide more information to the Council and public;
- listen to the public and respond accordingly;
- encourage and expect probing questions from the Council ; and
- stop insisting on nearly instant passage of resolutions, without evaluating and explaining options, and without incorporating thoughtful criticism, including comments received at public hearings, and without supplying relevant information, even when requested by Council members.
The next best thing to a new mayor is a mayor who can no longer count on getting all his desires rubber-stamped.
Looking at the people who will be on the November 2019 City Council Ballot, we need to think about and support the people most likely to be independent thinkers, who will insist that the Council is the City’s legislative and policy leader, not the Mayor. And, who see themselves as the partners of Schenectady’s residents and neighborhoods, not partners of the Mayor’s favored developers and commercial interests. [update (Nov. 3, 2019): The Sunday Gazette has an article by Pete DeMola that captures the dynamics of the City Council race, “In race for Schenectady City Council, Democratic unity belies more complicated tensions: Seven candidates campaign for four seats”. It notes, for instance, that if Vince Riggi wins one of the four contested seats the four Democrats on the ballot are competing with each other for the three remaining seats.]
FIRE POLIMENI. The 4-member Council “Rump” Majority is made up of Council President Ed Kosiur, John Polimeni, John Mootooveren, and Karen Senecal Zalewski-Wildzunas. Only Ed Kosiur and John Polimeni are on the ballot from this Council Clique. Vince Riggi and Leesa Perazzo are also on the ballot, seeking re-election. (See Gazette article)
Because of the many legislative missteps that we have seen initiated and pushed by John Polimeni, in addition to his virtually always acting as either a silent rubber-stamp or cheerleader for Mayor McCarthy, I believe we should work to ensure that Prof. Polimeni does not win re-election to the Schenectady City Council.
- Council Members Vince Riggi (Ind.) and Leesa Perazzo (Dem.) are also running this year. Schenectady needs to re-elect Vince Riggi and Vince has earned it, by listening to constituents from all parties, asking tough questions, and by seeking more and better information. Unfortunately, Vince has been frustrated time and again by the rush to voting that the Rump Majority allows the Mayor to pursue.
- If Leesa Perazzo is re-elected, I hope she will become an even stronger independent-thinker and actor on the Council.
SILENT WITNESS/Co-Conspirator. John Polimeni has not spoken out to  Ask for Privacy Safeguards for the City’s Smart City information gathering, and now says he wants to use the data to generate revenue, which means No Privacy, as the City sells information gathered about its residents and visitors to marketers. (see our post “Council, Do Your Smart City Homework.”  Demand that the Mayor return our replica Statue of Liberty to Liberty/Gateway Plaza, as was promised in the Final Plan approved by City Council and the Mayor in 2013. (In fact, he signed an error-filled petition to send Lady Liberty to Steinmetz Park; click here for the full Lady Liberty Story.) Nor,  Complain when Rivers Casino acknowledged that its lobbyists were seeking to reduce the 45% gaming tax on slots revenue to below 40%, meaning at least a 12% reduction in slots gaming revenue. Any reduction, of course, would mean less money coming into the City’s coffers.
- Our Council members must actively and vigilantly serve the interests of Schenectady’s residents, and speak out when Mayoral proposals, Department action or inaction, or Corporation Counsel opinions, need to be further investigated and explained.
ACTIVE PROPONENT of QUESTIONABLE PROGRAMS: Far too often, it seems, John Polimeni comes off as “Professor D-Minus“, willing to settle for projects and resolutions that are simply not ready for public unveiling; not sufficiently thought-through or detailed; not practical, and sometimes simply not wise. We deserve quality legislative proposals that could garner A’s and B’s if graded objectively and with the public interest in mind. For example:
SIDEWALK ASSESSMENT DISTRICT
. . share this Sidewalk Program section with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/SidewalkDeception
The primary proponent of the City’s Sidewalk Assessment District was Professor Polimeni. After years of thought, John came up with a program that was universally thought to be lacking in detail. [Click here for the full Statement submitted with the Sidewalk Assessment District Resolution by Mr. Polimeni, which purports to explain the plan and process.] Rather than pull it back and do a lot more thinking and research, Mr. Polimeni pushed on, ignoring requests from neighborhood leaders for more planning. At the time, it looked like Polimeni and City Engineer Chris Wallin were in a rush, calling for quick submission of Sidewalk District Petitions by interested residents, because they wanted at least one block in the City to have new sidewalks by the November election.
Well, that has happened, with sidewalk work completed on the block of Ardsley Road at Union Street by late October. The Ardsley Petition got one contractor bid, and the results were a homeowner expense 84% higher than Mr. Polimeni’s estimates. For example:
50′ Sidewalk Frontage, 5′ wide:
Polimeni-Wallin Estimate of Cost:
27.78 sq. yd. x $80 sq. yd. = $2222
. . equivalent to 50′ x $44.44 per foot = $2222
Contractor Bid: Ardsley Rd. Homeowner Cost: 50 ft. x $81.71 = $4085
See the full Ardsley Road Contractor Bid immediately below. We deserve well-considered and vetted plans, not the premature legislation given us by M. Polimeni.
follow-up (Jan. 2, 2020): According to a front-page article in the New Year’s Day edition of the Albany Times Union, “Schenectady homeowners cry foul after getting sidewalk bills” (by Paul Nelson, January 1, 2020), Ardsley Road participants in the Sidewalk Program have received their first bills from the City, and are unhappy about the difference in their cost compared to the estimates used by Mr. Polimeni last March. In fact, it appears that those Bills were not merely calculated using the $81.71 cost per foot in the Contractor’s approved Bid, but used a figure of about $100 per foot of sidewalk frontage, adding another 25% to the already bloated Total Cost to the Resident. E.g., the owners of 1089 Ardsley Rd. received a first Annual bill of about $505, rather than the $404 shown in the Bid contract as the Annual Cost over ten years. Mayor Gary McCarthy told the TU the higher amount was due to unexpectedly high costs related to tree removal and landscaping.
However, in the Contractor Bid seen above, Tree Removal is shown as a City Share expense, and Top Soil and seed are already built into the $81.71 figure. There appears to be no basis in the contract or Council Resolution for tacking on to Resident Bills any unexpectedly high Tree and Landscaping expenses. The Mayor promised the TU he would have new bills sent out reflecting the $81.71 figure in the Bid.
- Asking what discount should be applied to that number to treat the Homeowners fairly is a more relevant question, or whether the initial Polimeni estimates should be used, perhaps with a small surcharge for the uncertainty that comes with any estimate, and which would probably have been acceptable to the Ardsley Rd. petitioners.
- Actually, it is not obvious what amount would be fair to charge per foot of Ardsley sidewalk. Any figure will have to be arbitrary. It would be interesting to hear the Council Members discussing the issue of fairness. The higher end of the Polimeni range of original estimates might be reasonable, adding perhaps 10-15% to his $2222 for 50 linear feet of sidewalk. If that is done, of course, the City Treasury (that is, its taxpayers) will be making up the difference, due to the poor job done by those who have been executing the Sidewalk Assessment District Plan.
- City Engineer Wallin and Council members have caused confusion by using square yards, square feet, and linear feet when discussing the cost of the Ardsley Road project. For a Sidewalk Program with uniform sidewalk width of 5′, and uniform thickness of 6 inches, simply using linear feet (equal to the frontage in feet for the property in the City tax maps for most properties), probably makes the most sense, just to keep the arithmetic as simple as possible.
Clearly, the Ardsley Homeowners were poorly treated, and I think City Council might have been tricked by Mr. Polimeni and City Engineer Chris Wallin into prematurely approving the Contractor Bid and granting the work contract.
- Sidenote: When the proponent of a Council resolution or plan gives assurances about the procedure to be followed, but refuses to put them in writing as part of the resolution or written Plan, the approval process should be stopped, and the project sent back for more work. And, unless there is a true time constraint emergency, the same the same thing should happen when even supporters cannot say more than “It’s not perfect” or “It will need tweaking”.
- For a description of the situation, see “City hits speed bump with sidewalk program” (Daily Gazette, by Pete DeMola, Jan. 3, 2020), along with the comment at that Gazette webpage by David Giacalone, which fills in some needed facts and questions.
- Sara Foss has weighed in with an astute assessment, in her column “Foss: City’s new sidewalk program a disappointment” (Sunday Gazette, Jan. 5, 2020, posted online Saturday evening, Jan. 4). After a cogent quote from Leesa Perazzo, when she voted against the Sidewalk Program last March, Sara frankly states:
Turns out, the sidewalk replacement program is exactly what its critics claimed — an ill-conceived “solution” that will do little to address the poor quality of Schenectady’s sidewalks and risks further eroding residents’ trust in government.
It is a huge failure — and you can’t say nobody saw it coming.
- News Flash (Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, 9 PM): Members of the Schenectady City Council have been discussing the Ardsley Rd. Sidewalk Fiasco over the past couple of days, since news of the excessive cost to Homeowners received media coverage. Council members now apparently plan to re-consider the Ardsley Rd. matter, and call for a greatly reduced price to the Homeowners, at its Council Committees Meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 7, at 5:30, in Room 110 of City Hall. The general public is not allowed to speak or ask questions during Committee meetings, but I believe Ardsley Rd Homeowners will be invited to participate, because they are so enmeshed in the facts and subject to the Contract. Of course, reducing the cost to the Ardsley Rd. homeowners will mean — directly or indirectly — dipping into taxpayer money to make up the difference. One million dollars was placed in the City’s 2019 Capital Budget to pay for expenses of the Sidewalk Plan. Update: Jan. 7, 2020: As mentioned in our News Flash below, the Sidewalk Plan has been added to the Jan. 7 Committees Agenda; it is the 3rd item under Finance Committee. Go here, for our description of that Meeting and the proposed fix for Ardsley Rd.
TREES & SIDEWALK REPLACEMENT. Several mature shade trees were taken down during this project on Ardsley Rd., with the City paying $4500 per tree. Here are images of the street view of 1089 Ardsley Road from 2011 (Google Street image) and early in October 2019.
Polimeni refused to put a provision in the Sidewalk Plan calling for individual assessment by an arborist of each tree affected by sidewalk repair or replacement, with the directive of saving as many trees as possible. He said he would leave the decision to the City Engineering department, which has adopted a severe standard of removing any tree that undergoes any significant root loss during a sidewalk or road improvement project.
- For a fuller discussion of the issue of Sidewalks vs. Trees, see our posting “Schenectady needs a Trees Preservation Policy.”
Bike Share Expenses
In May 2019, CTDA asked the City of Schenectady to sign a Memorandum of Understanding, requiring the City to pay $25,000 each year for three additional years to remain in the program. Neither CDTA nor City Engineer Chris Wallin on their behalf supplied important information needed to make a responsible decision. That was after Council members Leesa Perazzo and Marion Porterfield requested such information. On May 13, 2019, Wallin did not even show for the City Council meeting and never supplied the requested information.
We did not know, and still do not know, how many people in Schenectady actually used the Program in the prior years (the trips taken from Schenectady stations only amounted to 6% of the trips in the entire Bike Share program), nor how they used the Bicycle (i.e., was the average bike trip three blocks or three miles?). Nonetheless, in supporting the measure, Council member John Polimeni asserted that “the benefits far exceed the costs” of this MOU.
- For a fuller discussion of the Bike Share plan, including how few people in Schenectady are using Bike Share (only 6% of total system rides originate in Schenectady) and the large subsidy being paid by the City for each Bike stationed in Schenectady, see our posting, “Schenectady’s wobbly bike share deal” (May 10, 2019).
PLASTIC STRAW BAN John Polimeni introduced a resolution that would have banned commercial use of plastic straws in Schenectady, rather than working with the County and State for a coordinated and more enforceable solution to this problem. Prof. Polimeni seems to believe that “doing something now” is better than doing nothing. To the contrary, rushed ideas, even if trendy, often create unforeseeable problems and stymie passage of better legislation. This was, at best, a D-minus project.
See “Schenectady plastic straw ban proposal fails” (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, Aug. 19 2910).
POLICE CHIEF SICK LEAVE BONUS
John Polimeni led the fight to get a payout of over $8000 for unused Sick Leave accumulated by Eric Clifford prior to his promotion to Chief of Police. Polimeni simply ignored the words in the Union Contract that such payout is for hours “in excess of 120 days”. Clifford was 25 days short of that threshold prior to taking the Chief’s position, which is no longer covered by the union contract.
Despite advice by Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico that the City has no obligation to pay the $8000, Polimeni told the Gazette that “the intent of the agreement was clear and should be honored”. Vince Riggi pressed hard on this issue, and when it became clear that the payout would not have a Council majority support if voted on at the Council Meeting, Polimeni had the resolution tabled rather than suffer the defeat. See Gazette article. The Polimeni Resolution could please only the Chief and, in an election year, the Police Union.
SELLING SMART CITY DATA to MERCHANDIZERS
Councilman Polimeni has never responded to my calls for Privacy Protections that assure that people caught by the City’s audio and video sensors will not find their data being sold or bartered to the Mayor’s “Tech-Partners” or other outside sellers. He made it clear recently why: Mr. Polimeni wants to use Smart City data to generate revenue for the City — by collecting and offering to merchants data that can be used (or resold) for targeted merchandizing activity. As reported by the Gazette on October 20, 2019:
Councilman John Polimeni said the city should do more to explore ways technology can be used to generate revenue — including using data to create marketing strategies for businesses in the city.
“We can also use this technology to create new businesses and applications that we can use to create employment opportunities,” Polimeni said.
According to the Gazette, John is also willing to put an additional $2 million dollars in the City’s Capital Budget for Smart Cities, before the Mayor or Council seeks public input on the scope and use of the mountain of data that is being collected, and that can be used — without consent –to target individuals, whose activities and habits in the City are recorded and archived. [This topic of Smart City planning, transparency, and privacy protection was addressed in our posting “Council, Do Your Smart City Homework“.]
- POLIMENI SUMMARY: John Polimeni has failed to speak out or act against the Mayor’s unwise policies and antics, and has proposed too many ideas that are contrary to good government and the public interest. He does not deserve re=election.
- Share this posting with the short URL: https://tinyurl.com/NoPolimeni
Thank you to the Gazette opinion staff for publishing my Election Letter to the Editor, which appeared October 24, 2019, on the Opinion page (C5) of the Schenectady Gazette:
Update (Nov. 2, 2019): On Halloween, October 31, 2019, the Gazette published an editorial endorsing 4 of the 7 candidates seeking a Schenectady City Council seat at the Nov. 5th election. See “ENDORSEMENT: Four will make Schenectady Council stronger”. In addition to endorsing Vince Riggi, Leesa Perazzo, and Carmel Patrick, the Gazette endorsed John Polimeni, saying:
“John Polimeni, a city native and college professor in Albany with a PhD from RPI, brings intellect, economic development background and research skills to the council, where he serves as chair of the Finance Committee. We’d like to see him get more aggressive on coming up with ways to cut spending and raise revenue, especially in his committee role, during his next term.”
Here is a slightly edited Comment that I left at the online version of the endorsement, disagreeing with their disagreeable Halloween Trick on the people of Schenectady:
Comment of David Giacalone:Today is Halloween, not April Fools Day. How could you write those words about John Polimeni? He wanted to waste resources on a Straw Ban and purposely misread the union contract to want to give the Police Chief unearned Sick Leave compensation. His great research on sidewalk programs resulted in a C- explanation of the Schenectady Sidewalk Assessment District Program that left far too many unanswered questions, resulting in only one contractor bidding on the first block, Ardsley Rd., where homeowner costs were 84% higher than his estimate earlier this year.
Polimeni also failed to wait for Bike Share information about Schenectady’s use before supporting the payment of $75,000 to CDTA. And, publicly would only say “it won’t be 16%” when confronted with the Mayor’s bold request for a raise.
Also, Polimeni’s idea for added revenue: selling Smart City data (about the habits of Schenectady residents) to marketers.
It’s a record of irresponsible silences, frivolous ideas, and poor judgment. We all need to skip Polimeni when voting for City Council. The Council will be stronger the day the Mayor no longer has a sure four votes. See https://tinyurl.com/NoPolimeni