The Story Of The Attempted Heist At The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls

The Boston public radio station WBUR in cooperation with the Boston Globe Newspaper has posted a set of podcasts on the history of the infamous theft at the Gardner Museum in Boston.  The theft included a Rembrandt and a Vermeer along with eleven other pieces.  They have never been recovered.

While the podcasts sometimes have a breathy eEntertainment quality to them, they are still a lot of fun.  The story includes some very colorful players.

As it turns out, one of the suspects had previously attempted to rob the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls.  One of the podcasts/episodes (No. 8) focuses on this attempt.

The podcasts are titled “Last Seen” and can be found at this link:

 

 

City Center Parking Project Moves Forward

On  Tuesday, November 20th, the Saratoga Springs City Council voted unanimously to move forward with the design phase of the Flat Rock Center Concept Plan.  Below is the full text of the resolution but the key element states: “City Council recommends that the Saratoga Springs City Center Authority proceed with initial design proposals for the municipal parking structure, with such proposals to incorporate a reduction in the total number of parking spaces as originally proposed in the Concept Plan, and to present such proposals to the City Council and the public for consideration and review”

The resolution passed the council unanimously.

During the comment period there were three speakers who expressed reservations about the resolution but the vast majority, most of them from the downtown business community, spoke in support of the proposal.  City Center executive director, Ryan McMahon, told the council that thirteen events had chosen other venues due to the lack of parking and another twenty-nine were looking elsewhere also because of parking issues.  He estimated that this had lost millions of dollars of income for local businesses.

This is a link to an excellent story by Thomas DiMopoulos for Saratoga Today on the current plan

A video of the public comments as well as council members’ comments before voting for the resolution is available on the city website.

A RESOLUTION

OF THE CITY COUNCIL

OF THE CITY OF SARATOGA SPRINGS FLAT ROCK CENTRE CONCEPT PLAN

 

WHEREAS, by deed dated June 25, 1986, the Saratoga Springs Urban Renewal Agency conveyed a 2.6 acre parcel of land to the City of Saratoga Springs, with such land bounded by Lake Avenue, High Rock Avenue, York Street and Maple Avenue; and

WHEREAS, since its acquisition by the City, the parcel has only included a paved parking surface; and

WHEREAS, in May 2018, a Committee was convened and included a construction expert, neighboring property owners, representatives from the Greenbelt Trail Committee, the Complete Streets Committee, the downtown business community, the Administrator of Planning and Economic Development, a County Supervisor, the Commissioner of Finance, and the Mayor; and

WHEREAS, the Committee was charged with developing a Concept Plan for the entire 2.6 acre parcel that incorporates the Guiding Principles of the City’s Comprehensive Plan as adopted by the City Council on June 16, 2015; and

WHEREAS, the Committee has since established a Concept Plan for the 2.6 acre parcel which consists of four components, including (1) the establishment of a public park (Flat Rock Park) at the southerly end of the parcel along lake Avenue and where Flat Rock Spring once existed; (2) the continuation of the Park at the easterly side of the parcel along High Rock Avenue, which will connect Flat Rock Park to High Rock Park and include the Greenbelt trail, Downtown Connector; (3) the development of a municipal parking structure; and (4) the retention of outparcels for future development; and

WHEREAS, the Concept Plan was presented to the public at a City Council meeting on July 17, 2018, together with the City’s application for CFA Grant funding for the development of Flat Rock Centre, and again at a Special City Council meeting on November 13, 2018; and

WHEREAS, public input indicated a number of ideas, including the need to consider a possible reduction in the size of the municipal parking structure as well as a possible increase and reconfiguration of the public park, green-space and outparcels; and

WHEREAS, the costs associated with the four components of the Concept Plan may require that development and implementation occur in one or more phases, with parking and the Greenbelt Trail, Downtown Connector, identified as a priority and to be included in Phase I; and the public park, green-space and outparcels to be included in Phase II; and

WHEREAS, the City intends to work collaboratively with the Saratoga Springs City Center Authority, in accordance with the provisions of the City’s Comprehensive Plan to ensure adequate parking to enable the City Center to continue to attract conventions and other events to our downtown; and

WHEREAS, the City Council envisions the collaborative effort to include the City Center providing the costs associated with the design and construction of the municipal parking structure, subject to Council review and approval;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that, subject to compliance with the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), the City Council intends to proceed with Phase I, including the design and development of the Greenbelt Trail, Downtown Connector, and a municipal parking structure; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City Council recommends that the Saratoga Springs City Center Authority proceed with initial design proposals for the municipal parking structure, with such proposals to incorporate a reduction in the total number of parking spaces as originally proposed in the Concept Plan, and to present such proposals to the City Council and the public for consideration and review; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City Council, in conjunction with the previously established Committee, shall further review the components to be included in Phase II, with an effort to increase and reconfigure the public park, green-space and outparcels; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that upon receipt of the design proposals from the City Center and the further recommendations from the Committee, the City Council will schedule a Special Meeting to present the proposals to the public for input and consideration.

Dated: November 20, 2018

 

A Production For People Who Don’t Think They Like Shakespeare

So many people have had bad experiences with Shakespeare that it is difficult to get them to watch new productions.  I know this was the case with myself.  In my early experiences with Shakespear I found myself unable to understand what the actors were saying.  I might get half and between the frustration and the effort, the impact of the play was lost on me.

The English director Richard Eyre has filmed King Lear in modern dress with a stunning cast of the whos who of the British theater and television.  In this trailer you will see that done well, the dialogue is accessible.

Here’s the cast:

Anthony Hopkins – Hannible Lector (Silence of the Lambs), The Remains of the Day

Emma Thompson – Sense and Sensibility, The Remains of the Day, Harry Potter movies

Emily Watson – Gosford Park, The Theory of Everything

Andrew Scott – Played Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes series with Cumberbach as the sleuth on BBC

Tobias Menzies – Played roles of both modern husband and villain Frank and Jack Randall in Outlander.  Also Game of Thrones

Jim Broadbent – Game of Thrones, Harry Potter series (professor Slughorn),  The Iron Lady (Dennis Thatcher), one of England’s greatest actors

Jim Carter – The butler in Downton Abby along with about a thousand other great character roles

The movie is available on Amazon Prime.  Give it a go!

 

 

 

Charter Change: “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go” – Oscar Wilde

There is no other way to put it.  The proposal to update the current charter was crushed at the polls on November 6th.

The city had to endure another campaign, briefer but just as poisonous as the 2017 “fight.”

Using letters to the editor, social media, and flyers the opponents to this year’s ballot question on the charter issued information that was often inaccurate or badly misleading and always fueled by bitterness.  Most disturbing, in spite of being advised of the inaccuracies, they continued to publish these same statements.

As recently as the Monday before the election someone left this flyer on our doorstep.

ItsTimeFlyer
Its Time Flyer (Although it could be confused as coming from the League of Women Voters)

Dear reader, at the age of seventy-two and a veteran of many public controversies, this latest conflict was all too familiar.  I have never fully understood the pathology of groups like “Its Time Saratoga” (ITS).  In this case the core of the group that formed during the previous charter campaign adopted a kind of magical thinking.  The passion for their cause combined with the desire to be loyal to each other appeared to take on a cult like form.  Rumors and conjecture among their members were confused with the truth and took on a strange, collective orthodoxy unburdened by the anchor of facts and reality.  As often happens with these types of groups, the targets of their campaign were transformed in their minds into ruthless and cunning enemies.  It all became operatic.  In ITS’s eyes, every action by the members of the charter commission hid an allegedly sinister agenda.  Therefore, any consideration of ITS’s opponents’ arguments could be dismissed by ITS as pointless.  Thus ITS was able to hold on to its narrative because ITS was incapable of considering arguments that might jeopardize the euphoric unity its members were experiencing.

It is also important to note that this pathology was not being exhibited by teenage zealots.  The members of this group include professors, lawyers, and retired business executives.

In their quest to portray the writers of the charter proposal as charlatans, the members of this group circulated statements that were either incorrect or grossly misleading:

“City Council Members given authority to set their own salaries [their emphasis]” [in the flier above]

And “Lifetime [their emphasis] healthcare benefits” [also in flier]

And from a TU article: “Critics of the proposal said it was crafted by City Hall’s most powerful insiders [my emphasis]…”

And in the most recent  classic example of magical thinking, Dr. Robert Turner from a November 7 story on WAMC: “I think what this election showed was a stunning repudiation of the commission form of government.”  [JK: As Shakespeare observed “The empty vessel makes the loudest sound.”]

Playing To Fear

Pretty much everyone, including myself, is frustrated by our federal government that seems incapable of acting on behalf of its citizens.  An army of lobbyists armed with generous donations to elected officials seems to have, if not hijacked, at least disproportionally taken control of the decisions made allegedly on our behalf.

Is it any wonder then how easy it is to exploit this general disillusionment with government and create suspicion of our own city officials who many do not know?  Ignorant of the details of the charter proposal and assailed by things like the flyer above and a flood of disinformation on social media, is it any wonder that the proposed charter changes were defeated?

In many ways the modest nature of the changes in the charter proposal meant that a logical, rational defense could not compete with the drama offered by its opponents.

To make my point, review the flyer above and then listen to Charter Commission Chair and city attorney, Vince DeLeonardis’ interview following the defeat of the charter.   Cerebral, thoughtful, and measured, it cannot compete with the image the opponents  conjured up of defeating the alleged cabal that operates out of city hall.

DeLeonardis Interview

In the end, the failure of the very modest changes proposed by the commission was a lost opportunity.

Weak Mayor?

The term “weak” is pejorative.  There is no way of getting around it.  A Google search results in the following definitions:

1. lacking the power to perform physically demanding tasks; lacking physical strength and energy

                                    synonyms: frail, feeble, delicate, fragile;

2. liable to break or give way under pressure; easily damaged lacking the force of character to hold to one’s own decisions, beliefs, or principles; irresolute.

So any discussion of “weak” versus “strong” mayor is problematic from the beginning,

The commission form of government had populist/democratic roots.  The idea was to directly elect the people who would run the different departments that delivered services to the city (in our case public works, public safety, finance, accounts).  In some cases the “mayor’s” role was simply to run meetings and act as a spokesperson for the government.  As such, the role of mayor was rotated among the commissioners in some historical examples.

In the case of our own city, it appears that the mayor’s responsibilities evolved as activities taken on by the city that did not fit into the domains of the other commissioners were allocated to the mayor’s office.  These involved economic development, grant writing, and city planning functions.  It appears that by default, these responsibilities fell into the mayor’s domain.  These responsibilities were added to the duties of the chairing of council meetings, representing the city to other public institutions, and serving as the face of the city rather like the royals in England.

Often when people think about a mayor they envision mayors who play more traditional roles in other cities that don’t have a commission form of government. In many municipalities the mayor is the true CEO.   All administrative responsibilities fall under the jurisdiction of  a traditional mayor.  The budget officer, the public works director, the chief of police, etc. all report and serve at the pleasure of the mayor.

A separate body, the council, passes legislation such as budgets, zoning ordinances, etc.

So to understand the changes being recommended by the current charter commission one needs to recognize that in the commission form of government that we have, the city is really run by five people and that the mayor’s position is quite modest.  Any “strengthening” or “weakening” of a mayor is going to be fundamentally limited. If a citizen wants a mayor with real authority, they need to consider a different model.  I find it ironic that many of the advocates of the city manager model who are expressing concern over the “weakening” of the mayor, are ignoring that under their proposal they would have stripped the mayor of all administrative authority.

Mayor Kelly’s charge to the current charter review commission was to update  the current commission form of government , not replace it. What was refreshing about this process was that the members of this commission, all our elected officials and their deputies, did not focus on the usual parochial issue of how to divvy up power.  If you observed their deliberations, you would have seen thoughtful discussions on how best to manage resources given that administrative responsibilities are delegated to departments based on the unique mission of each.

So, for example, it was determined that since the Informational Technology office’s role was an internal one that needed to be shared between departments, it should not be under the domain of one commissioner but instead operate independently as a shared service to all departments.

Over half of the city’s recreational program budget is devoted to the maintenance of the city’s playing fields and buildings.  The program has its own recreation commission and director running the program but in the interest of better coordinating the constant maintenance  of facilities with the actual activities, it was decided to move the recreation program from the mayor’s office to the Department of Public Works which is charged with all maintenance.  In fact, the Recreation Commission issued a statement that endorsed this reconfiguration.

It seems especially logical, and a credit to Mayor Kelly who implemented this last January, that the state of the city address should be done by the entire council, not just the mayor as has been done in the past. In their literature, the critics see sharing this function as representing a weakening of the mayor’s authority.  It appears to me that this is simply a thoughtful recognition that in a commission form, to accurately describe the state of the city, it is best done by the mayor and all the other commissioners.

It should be noted that it is not just the mayor’s office that has been affected by the changes proposed this year. For instance,  the Finance Department is giving up IT, and appointments to boards made by the Commissioner of Accounts and the Commissioner of Public Works will also be subject to the approval of the majority of the council.

So, in the end, it seems all of this is a matter of perspective.  If you are not comfortable with the distribution of responsibilities in a commission form of government in general, it makes sense that you would be troubled by these reforms.  For those who see merit in power sharing, these reforms will be welcomed.