Comptroller Issues Report That Places Our City As One of the Financially Soundest Governments In The State

I was fortunate to have received this (see below) from someone who follows this blog.  The New York State Comptroller, Tom DiNapoli, has issued a report that attempts to analyze the ability of local, public institutions to withstand potential financial problems.  As the writer points out, the report places the city of Saratoga Springs as one of only three local governments out of its cohort of sixty-one with a perfect score (Zero).

Here is what the writer posted to me:

The Fiscal Stress Monitoring System provides:

An early warning of fiscal stress to local governments and school districts by examining their financial information and aspects of their external environment;

The System has two main components:

Financial indicators evaluate budgetary solvency, the ability of a locality to generate enough revenue to meet expenses, by measuring:

• Year-end fund balances
• Operating deficits/surpluses
• Cashposition
• Use of short-term debt for cash flow

Environmental indicators capture trends that influence revenue-raising capability and demands for service:

Local Governments

  • • Population
  • • Age
  • • Poverty
  • • Property values •Employment
  • Dependence on revenue
  • from other government units (which can be highly variable)
  • Constitutional tax limits
  • Sales tax revenue
  • • Fixed costs (evaluated for local governments only)

Although environmental factors are largely outside a locality’s control, they provide insight about additional challenges confronting a community

.
___________________________________
Preceding is a cut and paste from their fact sheet:

http://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/fiscalmonitoring/pdf/factsheet.pdf

_________________________________

My language [The writer’s, not mine]:

Environment score rates the overall health of the city (not the finances) with an attempt to forecast pending problems.

We scored “0” which means we’re one of the healthiest cities with no indication of pending problems.
Stress score rates the financial health of the city with an attempt to forecast financial risk.
Here are the numbers. Be sure to click through the right hand column for Saratoga Springs.

Snowdon: A Gripping Film

It should come as no surprise to the readers of this blog that I greatly admire Edward Snowdon.  He is the ultimate whistle blower.

Oliver Stone has directed a very powerful film that is both chilling in its presentation of the power of the new technology to invade people’s lives and of the transformation of Mr. Snowdon from a volunteer in the Special Forces to his eventual decision to expose the NSA.

This is a link to the trailer of the film: Link

Times Union Protects Public from Letter from Blogger’s Wife

Bloggers Wife: Threat To Public (And Times Union)

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Jane Weihe

Recently, my wife, Jane Weihe, wrote a letter to the editor of the Times Union newspaper in which she criticized their coverage of the proposed renovations for the city’s Finance Office.  The newspaper responded that in order to publish her letter she would be required to make substantive changes.

The correspondence really speaks for itself but I would like to make several introductory observations regarding this controversy.

Jane’s letter criticized the Times Union Newspaper and the reporter, Wendy Liberatore by name.  The newspaper responded  that Ms. Liberatore’s name could not be used since, they asserted, all the stories are a collaborative effort.  You will see in Jane’s letter that she addresses the significance of a byline.  I would add to this (a bit snarkily) that using this logic, were a TU reporter  awarded a Pulitizer Prize they would have to decline it since all published work in the paper  is,  according to them, a collaborative effort and cannot be attributed to any one person.  For that matter, any letters congratulating the proposed awardee would have to be rejected.

As the readers will note, Rex Smith, editor of the TU, was copied on all correspondence.  I would assume anyway that as editor this policy reflects his standards for journalism.  As many will know, Mr. Smith opines on a radio program on WAMC called the Media Project.  This program is supposed to analyze media coverage.   I think the comedic character of the following letters raises some concern about Mr. Smith’s expertise on what constitutes good journalism.

Original Letter

From: Jane Weihe [mailto:jane.weihe@gmail.com]
Sent: Monday, September 19, 2016 3:22 PM
To: TU Letters <TUletters@TimesUnion.com>
Subject: Saratoga Springs Finance Department renovations–letter to the editor

Shame on Wendy Liberatore and the TU editors for their front page treatment of proposed renovations to the Finance Office in Saratoga Springs.  I’m not sure what source Ms. Liberatore used to conclude that the renovations to the office which include a bathroom and kitchenette were for Commissioner Madigan’s private use but I would suggest she use caution before trusting this source in the future. These and other proposed renovations are not for the Commissioner’s private use. Instead the plans call for a much needed upgrade to the rather dilapidated Finance office including public spaces, and improved facilities are for the use of the entire Finance Department staff. I would urge the folks at the TU and their readers to take advantage of Commissioner Madigan’s invitation to tour the space and see the renovation plans first hand for a more accurate view of what has been proposed. Tours will be given every Tuesday at 2PM from October 4 to November 1.

Jane Weihe

44 White Street

Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

518 573-1732

First Response From Times Union

From: Tyler, Tena On Behalf Of TU Letters
Sent: Tuesday, September 20, 2016 12:25 PM
To: ‘Jane Weihe’ < >
Subject: RE: Saratoga Springs Finance Department renovations–letter to the editor

Thank you for writing. I’m interested in the letter; however, a couple of issues would have to be addressed.

It’s fine to criticize the Times Union, but we don’t publish ad hominem statements against individuals including reporters. Stories that are published are the result of a collaborative process. So, if you want to say “Shame on the Times Union…,” I would consider that for publication.

Also, the article doesn’t say that the renovations are for the commissioner’s private use, and letters are used for commentary on print-published content. There is a link to the story and a copy of it below. It says the renovations are for the private use of that department, which includes the commissioner. And, unless these facilities are going to be open to the public, then it would be for the private use of that department. However, if you would like to say “…early online versions of this story made it unclear who would benefit from the restrooms and kitchenette…” then I would consider that phrasing.

If you’d like to edit the letter and resubmit, I’ll consider it.

Tena Tyler

Senior Editor, Engagement

Reader Representative

Editorial Board

News and Information Services Department

(518) 454-5324

twitter.com/tenatyler

facebook.com/tenatyler

Box 15000

Albany, NY 12212

Fax: (518) 454-5628


 

Jane Weihe’s Response

From: Jane Weihe []
Sent: Wednesday, September 21, 2016 8:04 PM
To: Tyler, Tena <ttyler@timesunion.com>
Cc: Smith, Rex <RSmith@TimesUnion.com>; Jay Jochnowitz <jjochnowitz@tu.com>
Subject: my letter to editor

 

Dear Ms. Tyler:

I found your response to my letter to the editor rather troubling.  While I appreciate your generous effort to assist me in writing a letter that would be acceptable to your newspaper, you have raised a number of issues that I think are at odds with the tradition of American journalism.

The first, and in many ways most problematic issue, is your requirement that my letter not refer to the reporter by name.  I understand that a reporter does not operate independently, and that their work is subject to the review by and consultation with at least their editor.  The basic nature of a byline, though, is that it establishes who is accountable for the work.   By placing their name as the author (byline) they are informing the public that they have researched the story and that they take responsibility for its accuracy and professional standards.  One would assume that were an editor to insist on changes that the reporter believed undermined the honesty of a piece, the reporter would decline to have their name associated with the story.  The “byline” in journalism is fundamental to the integrity of journalism.  Knowing Ms. Liberatore, I would assume that she would share this sentiment and that she would be the first to take responsibility for a story to which her name was attached.   If you are asserting that all the stories in the TU are ”the result of a collaborative process” and thus no one person is responsible for a story then perhaps the paper should do away with bylines and replace them with “written by staff” or better yet list the names of all those who were involved.

As to your characterization that my letter was an ad hominem attack on Ms. Liberatore this seems to me to be an abuse of the phrase.  “Ad hominem” is defined  as “an argument directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining.” My comments certainly did not attack Ms. Liberatore’s character.  I did not accuse her of being immoral, incompetent, or a bad person.  In fact I believe Ms Liberatore was a very good dance critic for many years at the Gazette and is a person of integrity who takes her work seriously. Instead I took her to task for her position in an article that bore her name, that is, “a position that she was maintaining”.  Ms. Liberatore’s original piece characterized a number of renovations as for the private use of the Commissioner.  I pointed out that in fact the renovations were designed to serve the entire staff of the Finance Department.   A front page story that would lead the public to believe that an elected official intended to spend many thousands of dollars of public money to frivolously indulge themselves is extremely damaging.  The failure to accurately reflect the true nature of the project was to any reasonable person, reckless to say the least.    I can fully understand that your paper might respond defensively to the word “shame”, but in this particular case it seems entirely appropriate.

There is also your direction that I should rewrite my letter to state that “…early online versions of this story made it unclear who would benefit from the restrooms and kitchenette…”  “Unclear” is a rather Orwellian euphemism here for what is straightforward inaccuracy.  The original version of the piece was quite clear and quite wrong in asserting that the restroom and kitchenette were for the Commissioner’s private use.

I must say that as problematic as Ms. Liberatore’s article was, the sensational and even more reckless headlines and captions were even worse.   In many ways, Ms. Liberatore’s errors were radically exaggerated by the New York Post-like headlines.   “Finance Chief Michele Madigan’s budget includes a private bathroom, a new ceiling and a kitchenette for her use” was the headline that went out on Twitter and Facebook. “Taxpayers on Hook for $750K” was the headline in the email sent out to the electronic subscribers (which we are). The photo caption in that version states “Work on City Hall office of Saratoga Springs Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan will include a private bathroom, kitchenette, and storage area as well as a private conference room” again suggesting this was for the Commissioner’s private use in “her “office not in the Finance Department’s office.

Your paper does deserve some credit for rewriting the story even though the headlines were not much of an improvement and continued to suggest the perspective of the earlier version. It would have been more honest, however, and more in keeping with journalistic standards had the paper indicated that this new story was not merely an “update” but in fact a correction.

Finally, I am struck by how threatened the Times Union appears to be by my letter.   When I sent the letter I fully expected that you would probably simply publish it as a token gesture of your tolerance to criticism and acknowledgement of the problems with the article to which you had given such prominence.  Of course I thought also that you might not publish it, but I never expected you to suggest I rewrite it to include a statement that “earlier on line versions  of  this story made it unclear who would benefit from the restroom and kitchenette” when it was unfortunately certainly not  unclear.  I do not intend to put my name on such a statement to help sanitize what the paper did.  I am, though, rather amused that you should go to such lengths to have me craft it to your approval.

My short letter was never going to begin to mend the damage of the story your paper published.  I consider the letter I wrote originally to be sharp in its criticism but fair and well within the bounds of good taste.  If you feel that it threatens Ms. Liberatore and your newspaper, I expect you will exercise your power to simply not publish it.  The world will go on.

Sincerely,

Jane Weihe

44 White Street, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

518 573-1732 (cell)

Last Response From Times Union 

From: Tyler, Tena On Behalf Of TU Letters
Sent: Tuesday, September 23, 2016 12:25 PM
To: ‘Jane Weihe’ < >
Subject: RE: Saratoga Springs Finance Department renovations–letter to the editor

Thank you for your note. As it happens, it is our standard guideline for letters criticizing articles that it is the Times Union that is identified, rather than individual writers, for the reasons I explained in my original response. I’ve re-included that email; the issues described in it remain unchanged. If you’d like to re-submit the letter tweaking in the ways described below, I will consider it. Otherwise, I understand that you don’t want the letter published.

 

Architects Who Did Study On Finance Office:Extraordinary Credentials

In a casual conversation with a friend who is an architect I mentioned the controversy over the Finance Office restoration.  He asked who the firm was that had done the study and after a little looking I found them and told him Mesick, Cohen, Wilson, Baker Architects, LLP.  He told me that they were considered the premier architects nationally on projects that involved preservation.

This is a link to their web site: link

I have selected from their website some of their projects that the readers of this blog might recognize.

Civic

  1. The Maryland State House
  2. The Tennessee State House
  3. Vermont State House
  4. New York state Capitol
  5. S. Federal Court (Washington D.C.)
  6. Rochester City Hall

Cultural

  1. Monticello (Jefferson’s Home)
  2. Chesterwood Studio (Stockbridge)
  3. The Hyde Collection (Glens Falls)
  4. Saratoga Automobile Museum
  5. Canfield Casino
  6. Arrowhead (Pittsfield – Herman Melville’s Home)

Educational

  1. Williams College
  2. RPI
  3. Skidmore
  4. College of William and Mary
  5. Union College
  6. University Of Virginia

Commercial

  1. Fort Orange Club
  2. Daughters of Sarah
  3. Proctors Theater
  4. Stuyvesant Plaza

The following is a list of  their awards:

2011

New York State Preservation League Award for Excellence in Preservation

Interior Renovation and Restoration project.  Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Albany, NY.

2010

The Thomas Jefferson Chapter of Preservation Virginia/APVA 2010 Preservation Project of the Year Award

This award was presented to the University of Virginia Office of the Architect and Facilities Management for the restoration of Pavilion X, one of Thomas Jefferson’s pavilions in the Academical Village. The Awards Committee was particularly impressed with the depth of research, the rigor of analysis and the strength of commitment to thinking in fresh ways about historic preservation in the Academical Village. Charlottesville, VA.

 

2008

The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation’s Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Restoration.

This award was given to Florida Southern College for the complete restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Waterdome.

 

The New York State Historic Preservation Award

This Not-for-Profit Achievement Award was presented to the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway for the restoration of the Burden Iron Works building in Troy, NY.

 

2007

New York State Preservation League Award for Excellence in Preservation and the Historic Albany Foundation Preservation Initiative Certificate.

These awards were given for the Improvements to the Great Western Staircase project at the New York State Capitol. The project involved cleaning over one hundred years worth of dirt, grime, and soot from the massive sandstone staircase. The project also involved the cleaning and restoration of all the historic light fixtures within the stair.

 

2004

The New York State Historic Preservation Award.

This Not-for-Profit Achievement Award was presented to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Albany, NY for an outstanding restoration of one of Albany’s most prominent landmarks.

 

2001

The Maryland Historical Trust Preservation Project Award for Hancock’s Resolution.

This award was given for the complete restoration of Hancock’s Resolution, 2001. The project required dedication and skilled craftsmanship to stabilize the deteriorated structural systems and other components and restore the original detailing of the landmark’s masonry construction.

 

1999

The New York State Historic Preservation Award for Chatham Union Station, 1999.

This award was given for the rehabilitation of Chatham Union Station, Chatham NY. This project restored the 1887 station to its original appearance while adapting it to its modern purpose, that of a bank.

 

1996

Build New York Award

The Pohndorff room, an addition to the Lucy Scribner Library at Skidmore College, was the recipient of this award for excellence in construction and teamwork.

 

Historic Albany Foundation Preservation Merit Award Recipients

 

Fort Orange Club- Award for restoration of the West Lounge

 

Albany Medical School- Medical Building Annex- Award for sensitive addition to existing historic building

 

Albany Law School- Moot Court Facility- Award for adaptive use

 

Rockefeller Institute of History and Government- Award for adaptive use/restoration of a Washington Park townhouse

 

1992

Massachusetts Historical Commission Project Award

The Eagle Office and Technology Park received this award for its adaptive use of a 19th century industrial space into a modern office and production space for the Berkshire Eagle newspaper.

 

 

 

TU Reporter Liberatore Responds To Blogger On Renovation Issue

On Friday I received a response from Wendy Liberatore  to my email to her which I posted in a recent blog and which I reproduce below.  I think Ms. Liberatore deserves a great deal of credit for engaging in a discussion on the coverage of the Finance Department’s renovations issue here.

I continue to disagree with Ms. Liberatore on the coverage of the issue but I think the matter has been pretty thoroughly discussed, so I am simply posting her response without further comment.


My Original Email To Ms. Liberatore

From: John Kaufmann <>
Date: Thursday, September 22, 2016 at 8:57 PM
To: Wendy Liberatore <wliberatore@timesunion.com>
Subject: Study By Architects

Per your recent blog, I have reviewed the study done by the architects for the proposed renovations to the Finance Office in Saratoga Springs.   They seem to me to be extremely thoughtful in their attempt to improve the offices of the Finance Department to make them both more efficient and to better serve the staff in doing their work.  Your original article and headlines like ““Taxpayers On Hook For $750K” strongly communicate that there was something improper in these plans that was newsworthy.  Could you take the time to email me what it is in the study by the architects that you found problematic?  The Facebook headline for your article stated “Finance chief Michele Madigan’s budget request includes a private bathroom, a new ceiling, and a kitchenette for her use”.  Could you please cite the section of this document that would support this statement.  Let me note that it would seem highly disingenuous to argue that these headlines would not lead the public to believe that these amenities were for the Commissioner’s personal use rather than for everyone in the department.

I look forward to your response.


Ms. Liberatore’s Response

From: “Liberatore, Wendy D” <wliberatore@timesunion.com>
Date: 09/23/2016 9:37 AM (GMT-05:00)
To: John Kaufmann <j>
Subject: Re: Study By Architects

Dear John,

The details you described were amended in the article to state the bathroom was for her and her staff. The original post mentioned the ceiling would be restored and that there was a kitchenette. It did not mention “for her use” in connection with the kitchenette, only the bathroom.

This is what has been printed and has been online.

http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Saratoga-Springs-finance-chief-wants-750-000-9227194.php

We even printed one article on her defense of the project:

http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Commissioner-defends-750K-in-renovations-for-9236043.php

Here are the blog posts, which allowed the public to weigh in:

http://blog.timesunion.com/saratogaseen/finance-office-renovations-will-cost-taxpayers-750000/27933/

http://blog.timesunion.com/saratogaseen/read-the-specs-for-finance-commissioners-750k-renovations-project/27956/

In every instance, Madigan’s point-of-view was clearly stated. We feel that she has been treated fairly in this matter.

As for the headline, that was the editor’s choice.

We did the story because we all felt that the price tag was high and that taxpayers would be interested in how their money was being spent.

I don’t believe there is anything in these articles that is factually erroneous.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to write to me.

— Wendy Liberatore
Times Union

518-454-5445

518-491-0454