Monday, February 20, 2012

Penn State Update 2/20

A couple posts back I mentioned Reilley and Eddy Barringer, who were raising money locally for Pennsylvania State University's efforts to conquer childhood cancer.

The final step in their year-long effort was this weekend, as thousands of Penn State students packed the school's basketball arena for a 46-hour dance marathon. I wanted to pass along a quick update.

Collectively, The Daily Collegian reports, Penn State students helped raise $10,686,924.83 for childhood cancer treatment and research. That's a record high.

Kathleen Barringer, Reilley and Eddy's mom, told me the kids raised just shy of $5,000 by holding a coin drop and Italian dinner earlier this month.
"This was enough to put their organization's total higher than last year's and they held on to fourth place among the hundreds of Penn State organizations raising money for THON," she wrote in an e-mail.
Add a few hundred canning drives like that around the country and it's not too difficult to see how they got to that number.

Another Penn State student newspaper, Onward State, did a neat video where they slapped a helmet cam on one of the dancers. It starts just shy of the final reveal and gives you a pretty good idea of just how excited the kids were – and what you contributed to if you donated.

Kathleen and her husband drove down to State College to be a part of THON weekend. Her e-mail popped into my inbox early this afternoon, as she and her husband were driving back.
"We are wiped out," Kathleen wrote, "but the weekend was beyond inspiring."
Until next time,


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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Closing Time 2/16

Lucian McCarty will examine what it'd actually take to change closing time in Saratoga Springs in Sunday's issue of The Saratogian.

Believe it or not, this issue would actually come before the Board of Supervisors. They'd have to make the request to the State Liquor Authority, who makes the final decision.

Be sure to pick up a copy to read Lucian's full report, but I wanted to share some comments from Saratoga County Supervisors on the subject.

I asked them if they'd support closing time in Saratoga Springs if that's what changing the City Council wants to do, if the time would affect their vote, and what if closing time had to be changed county-wide.

The Liquor Authority has never had a request where it's only one municipality. That's not to say it can't happen, but it's something to consider.

Comments after the jump.

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Dan Lewza Statement 2/16

During Wednesday night's Town Board meeting, Milton Supervisor Dan Lewza made the following statement regarding the felony drug charge against town Highway Superintendent David Forbes and the resolution of the ongoing legal battle between Heritage Springs Sewer Works, the Boghosian Brothers and the town.

“As the supervisor, I’d like to take a moment before we begin to talk to residents about what were are trying to accomplish and how I feel is the best way to get there as quickly as we can. I have stated many times that I feel we can accomplish many great things in this town, but we can only do it together. As you will see by the agenda tonight, we have accomplished something many said could not be done, but with the help of the community we proved anything can be done. And to continue to build on that momentum, we have to assure outsiders and developers that the negativity that has surrounded the town for so long is something of the past. So the town needs to lead by example. With that in mind, I feel like I need to make clear by position concerning the events surrounding Dave Forbes. After consulting with the Town Attorney, Jim Craig, and the town’s insurance agent, I feel the best thing for the town at this moment is to let the courts have the time to do what they need to do without any interference from the town. Our insurance agent has assured me the town is in good standing to allow Dave Forbes to continue his position until the matter is cleared up legally. I have received many comments from outside officials that it looks as if the town is headed in the right direction and I feel we are. But I will not allow us to move backward. We need to continue to let outsiders know we are a united, proud community that is open for business."

Though asking Forbes to resign could be viewed a good public relations move for the town, Lewza said that the Town Board can't do anything that could potentially influence the criminal case against Forbes, which is still pending.

An important thing to keep in mind here is the only way Forbes, an elected official, can be removed from office is if he A.) quits or B.) is convicted of a felony.

Why's that so important?

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Airport Rules Changing 2/14

Busy couple of days here. Everything seems to happen all at once on this beat.

I've written about Saratoga County's ongoing efforts to change some rules at Saratoga County Airport and local glider clubs' concerns about the proposals.

The rule changes are working their way through a committee consisting of representatives from the glider clubs and a slew of government agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration. When the county has a set of rules in place, it'll set a public hearing and enact them as a local law.

No public hearing has been set, which is why this item posted to Saratoga County's website last week struck me as odd.

In part:
PLEASE TAKE NOTICE, that effective immediately, no glider or other activities which violate the criteria identified herein will be allowed within the Object Free Areas at the Saratoga County Airport. Assembly, disassembly and actions other than towing the aircraft immediately prior to take off or the removal of the glider immediately after landing must take place within the areas leased by Saratoga Soaring Association and the Adirondack Soaring Group.
I expected this to be a big talking point at yesterday's meeting of the Buildings and Grounds Committee, which oversees Saratoga County Airport.

Representatives from both Saratoga Soaring Association and the Adirondack Soaring Group were on hand, but they didn't say anything. The committee didn't address the item at all.

So what's going on?

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

College students helping kids fight cancer 2/9

Reilley and Eddy Barringer are two of some 15,000 Penn State students involved with THON, which holds a two-day dance marathon on the school's main campus each February to raise funds and awareness for pediatric cancer treatment and research.

I wrote about the Ballston Spa brother and sister's involvement with the world's largest student-run philanthropy – and how their own family's lives have been touched by cancer – not too long ago. You can read that story here.

They were in downtown Saratoga Springs last weekend, holding coin drops in front of local businesses during Chowderfest. This Saturday, they're hosting an Italian Dinner at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Saratoga Springs. Proceeds from the event will benefit THON, which has raised more than $78 million over the past four decades.

Here's a video that showcases what THON is all about:

The dinner will be held from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $10, children 10 and under are free. You can purchase tickets at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 50 Pine Road, either in advance or at the door. You can also secure seats by calling 796-4021, or by e-mailing Online donations can be made here.

I ran into Eddy Barringer during Chowderfest and asked him what it was like being down in State College when legendary football coach Joe Paterno passed away last month. He told me that he was one of the thousands of students who lined the streets for Paterno's funeral procession.

He couldn't believe how quiet the students got when they saw the procession -- particularly Joe Paterno's wife occupying her late husband's seat on the football team bus. I found a YouTube that conveys the moment better than I can.

It was surreal, he said.

I'd argue the work the THON volunteers do is just as unbelievable.

Until next time,


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Deborah Thompson's House 2/9

Lots of news in tomorrow's paper about budget amendments, solar panels and the county technology committee, but here's something you won't see in print.

The asking price of Deborah Thompson's house at 71 Thompson Street (not a typo) in Ballston Spa has been lowered again, dropping to $89,900. You can see the listing here.

Thompson, wife of former Milton Supervisor Frank, has pleaded guilty to attempted grand larceny for stealing nearly $30,000 from an elderly woman while acting as the woman's legal guardian. She has been ordered to pay the victim restitution and has said she would sell her home to come up with the money. Frank Thompson has been cleared of wrongdoing.

She was supposed to have paid the victim restitution by December, but the house didn't sell. The judge rescheduled her sentencing date to March 13 and issued an ultimatum:
If Deborah Thompson does not pay at least $10,000 in restitution to the victim and have a plan to pay the remainder, pay $2,152 in back taxes and visit a state-licensed psychologist to evaluate her gambling addiction by that date, the plea agreement is off the table.
In addition, (Prosecutor Louise) Sira said she will seek jail time on the original charge of third-degree grand larceny, a felony that carries a potential sentence of 2-1/3 to 7 years in state prison.
This, by my count, is the home's fifth price drop. Deborah Thompson's attorney has told me the price on the home dropped three times between $139,000 and $114,900. It then plummeted to $94,900 following her court appearance in December.

I couldn't get a hold of Thompson's attorney today, but he's previously said that he'd do everything in his power to ensure his client does not see jail time. I left Sira a message and will update this post if she calls back.
It's entirely possible that Deborah Thompson has paid up, but there was no indication at that December court appearance that she had any other way of coming up with the $29,259 in restitution money other than selling her home

Until next time,


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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Malta Noise Ordinance 2/9

The town's building department forwarded me the latest draft of the proposed changes to their noise ordinance, which is headed to a public hearing in March.

The full text of the proposal is after the jump, but I'll give you the key points here.
  • Sunday construction is permitted between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday, but not within 500 feet of an occupied home. Previous versions of the bill have barred Sunday construction outright, but business leaders vehemently objected to the proposal.
  • You can perform Sunday construction within that 500 foot buffer zone, but only if you have the occupant's permission in writing. That seems unlikely at projects like Ellsworth Commons, which borders several residential properties. Complaints about untimely construction noise at the mixed-use development initially prompted the Town Board to re-examine the noise code.
  • Construction on other days of the week would be permitted between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m., the same hours during which it is currently allowed. The maximum permitted decibel levels would be 60 during those hours and 50 at all other times, also unchanged from the current code.
  • The town's code enforcement officers can issue tickets. Penalties for violating the code include fines of between $100 and $500 and/or a jail term of up to 15 days, if found guilty.
  • I'd wager you're going to see a slew of speakers, both town residents and business leaders, at the public hearing on March 5.
Continue reading for the proposal's full text.

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Legislative and Research Priorities 2/8

A shocking development in the Salem house explosion investigation consumed most of my day, but I wanted to pass along this bit of information from the Saratoga County Administrator's Office.

The Legislative and Research committee has outlined its top priorities for the year. They'll take these 11 goals down to Albany, probably in early March, and meet with state legislators.

That's sure to be an awkward gathering, after this whole mess.

The list and my analysis after the jump.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Malta Town Board Meeting 2/7

The big news from the Malta Town Board meeting was the resolution regarding the Dunning Street fire station, which I highlighted in my story for tomorrow's paper.

Though the Malta Ridge and Round Lake fire companies have been looking at a four-acre, town-owned parcel for the last few months, they may now shift their focus to a nearby plot on Hemphill Drive with all the convenience of being in downtown Malta without all the red tape.

I asked Town Supervisor Paul Sausville why the fire companies should be expected to spend thousands of dollars of taxpayer money on meeting the conditions of the sale if there's no guarantee that they'd be allowed to purchase the property once the conditions were met.

This quote didn't make it into the recap, but needs to be shared:
"As Yogi Berra would say, 'if you don't know where you're going, there's a good chance you're not going to get there.'"

He slightly paraphrased the quote, but I don't necessarily think that's applicable. The fire department knows where it wanted to go — Dunning Street — but they received neither the support of the town or the community. When that kind of thing happens, you inherently second guess yourself.

Had they not found this parcel on Hemphill Place, I think the fire departments would have been a lot more likely to forge ahead with the Dunning Street plans. But that just seems like a bad public relations move now. I think you're going to start seeing them seriously pursue that parcel as an option.

It's appraised at $200,000, which is about $300,000 cheaper than the Dunning Street parcel, and it doesn't require any of the studies.

After the jump, more resolutions.

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Belated Veterans Committee Meeting 2/7

If you were following my Twitter feed yesterday, you probably saw that I was feeling a little bit under the weather. I really don't like taking sick days because I wind up missing out on news and having to play catch-up. That's what we're doing in these next two posts.

In December, I wrote about the Saratoga County Veterans Trust and Agency Fund, which the Board of Supervisors created to help local veterans and their families. Needy veterans can apply to use the funds for anything from medical bills to college textbooks.

The fund currently sits at about $1,500, Saratoga County Veterans' Service Agency Director Andrew Davis said, but he's setting a pretty lofty goal to bump that up to $50,000 by the end of December. There's no taxpayer money in play; the fund relies solely on donations and fundraisers.

After the jump, tentative details on a fundraiser — and how you can donate.

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

State of the City 2/5

Salutations, all.

In tomorrow's paper, I've got a story about Mayor Scott Johnson's State of the City address, which he delivered this afternoon at the City Center.

I focused in on his call for a new public-private partnership that would pay for a study to analyze the impact of building up Route 9 between the Northway and Lincoln Avenue, so I'll touch on some other topics here.

  • The city is happy with the VLT money it's receiving, but it's still not at the level it used to be. That needs to be addressed, Johnson said.
  • Any move that legalizes casino gambling should guarantee that it won't adversely affect the race track, Johnson said. I'm not sure how you accomplish that. What if they say it won't, but then handle drops 5 percent? Are you going to outlaw casino gambling again? Not easy.
  • The ongoing Charter Change saga continues, with appellate argument scheduled for Tuesday. Final decision on appeal is expected within the next two months.
Full text after the jump, courtesy of the mayor's executive assistant, Therese Connolly:
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Super Bowl Picks 2/5

We're about an hour away from kick-off, so I'm going to make this quick.

I had the opportunity to talk to some City Council members before Mayor Scott Johnson's State of the City address (more on that in my next post) and asked them probably the easiest question I'll ask them all year: Who do they like in the Super Bowl? Answers below.

Mayor Scott Johnson: The Giants, of course. I'm going to say 27-17. I've always been a Giants fan. To me, the choice is easy. Four years ago I gave my first State of the City address and I had to give it on the morning of the Super Bowl. That was in 2008, when the Giants beat the Patriots the last time they met in the Super Bowl. That's an omen, I guess.

Accounts Commissioner John Franck: I'm a season ticket holder for the Giants and I've been a fan since I was a little kid. We barely made the playoffs, but we're getting hot at the right time. Giants, 27-23. Ed. note: Franck wore a New York Giants hat to the address. Took it off during the speech, but put it back on immediately following his television interviews.

Public Works Commissioner Skip Scirocco: I'm going to be the hometown guy and root for the Giants. I think it's probably going to be a three-point spread one way or the other. I'm hoping it's as exciting as the other playoff games.

Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen: I like the Giants and the Patriots, but I'm probably more of a Patriots fan than a Giants fan. Patriots, 30-27.

Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan didn't attend the speech for family reasons and was therefore unavailable for comment. Either way, Giants take the majority.

More elected officials after the jump.

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ballston Solar Panels 2/2

It won't always be like this, but the blog has a definite Ballston feel today.

Below, there's talk of the ongoing bookkeeper saga. Here, we'll take a look at how the town may change its zoning laws regarding solar panels.

First, a brief synopsis for those who haven't seen the print product:

Some residents were concerned about a half-dozen solar installations that were built in their deed-restricted neighborhood, which prohibits things like clotheslines. They questioned the Town Board about how that was possible given the deed restrictions, but the Town Board told them that it has no control over the deeds. It's only concerned with the zoning code and those solar panels are perfectly legal. The deed issue would be a matter for small claims court, they said, but they would examine possibly tweaking the zoning code because solar panels are becoming more popular.

More after the jump.
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Ballston Bookkeeper Drama 2/2

A couple of thoughts on yesterday's news that Joann Bouchard has served the Town of Ballston and Supervisor Patti Southworth with a notice of claim, which is generally the precursor to a lawsuit.

Here's the abridged version for those who don't know what I'm talking about:

In November, Bouchard was fired from her bookkeeping job less than 24 hours after she helped Bill Goslin obtain some of the town's financial information. The Board had previously authorized Goslin to acquire the information, but he used a flash drive, which Southworth said isn't standard practice.

Southworth has never confirmed nor denied the incident was related to Bouchard's termination, though Town Board members have said that has to be the case. They also don't believe Bouchard did anything wrong and demanded Southworth reinstate the bookkeeper. Southworth refused.

The Board then voted to abolish the position, which meant Southworth had to take over the town's bookkeeping duties or no one was getting paid. The Town Board has since created a new bookkeeping post.

More on the notice of claim after the jump.

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Welcome to Saratoga County... Observer 2/2

Salutations, all.

Welcome to Saratoga County Observer, a blog designed to supplement The Saratogian's coverage of our namesake county. My name is Michael Cignoli and I'll be responsible for updating this blog with anecdotes and insights into the issues surrounding governments in Ballston, Malta, Milton, Greenfield and beyond.

I've been with the paper for a little more than eight months, my first day on the job coming two days after I graduated from Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

We settled on the name "Saratoga County Observer" because my beat primarily focuses on the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors. I don't really supervise at the county because I don't direct any work, but I do observe what the supervisors do and relay what their decisions ultimately mean to Saratoga County residents.

Here's what I think of this blog as: Say I ran into you in the parking lot after leaving an event or a Town Board meeting. You ask me "What happened in there?" I tell you. That's basically what I do now for our print stories, but there I'm limited to how much information I can fit into a given story.

For the blog, I have an endless amount of flexibility. Look here for more reaction from supervisors and town officials throughout the county. I'm also planning some multimedia angles as well, but I don't want to tip my hat just yet. Still finalizing those details.

This is very informal, so by all means feel free to comment and offer suggestions as to what you'd like to see improved. You can also follow me on Twitter @MCSaratogian. Saratogian sportswriter Stan Hudy says that sounds like the name of a terrible rapper. Haters gon' hate.

Until next time,


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