The Only Advertisement You Will Ever See On This Site!

Jackson's Computer Services

Let The Wife Take Care Of Your Computer Needs







January 30, 2006

A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

January 30, 2006

A Long Rumination On The City Of Albany “Landfill”

Wherein The Mayor gets desperate, the wife cavorts in her underwear, and the garbage hits the fan

Lately, the wife has been causing Mayor Jerry Jennings a great deal of grief and misery. Not out of maliciousness, mind you. She’s not that sort of person. She’s simply trying to do what she and a lot of other people understand to be the right thing for the City of Albany. Unfortunately for everybody, the right thing runs directly contrary to The Mayor’s policies.

Her annoying behavior toward The Mayor is all about the Pine Bush Dump on Rapp Road, which officially and euphemistically is called The City of Albany Landfill. Many an astute observer driving along the Thruway has pointed out that this ever growing mountain of garbage is not “filling” any sort of “land,” it is, indeed, a “dump” in every sense of the word.

But dumping garbage is effectively illegal in New York State. Thus, everybody in authority resorts to the double-speak word “landfill” which implies correct legal procedures and a clean happy operation. That’s business and politics, not reality. You can call it Prince Charlie’s Hanky if you want, it’s still a big stinking pile of garbage on top of a source of drinking water.

Or, to be more precise, it is a PROFITABLE big stinking pile of garbage on top of a source of drinking water.

Somehow, Albany has gotten into the garbage business. About ten percent of the City’s annual revenues are said to come from “selling space” in the Dump, that is, signing contracts with suburban municipalities and letting them throw their garbage into The Dump. And, let’s remember that the biggest single contract dumper onto the Rapp Road site is the State of New York itself. The ten percent figure is according to the deceptive and incomplete document known as the Annual Budget, a figure that has stayed steady for several years.

I discovered this bit of information at the very first Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations (CANA) meeting that I attended back in 2000. The then City Comptroller, Nancy Burton, had broken precedent and laid out for the CANA representatives what had to be the most complete and understandable explanation of the City’s budget that anybody had seen up to that time. I sat and read her amazing handout while she spoke. Then I spotted the item about The Dump revenues, did some quick calculations, and almost fell out of my chair.

Breaking my vow not to open my mouth and say something stupid (an almost impossible task) I asked her if what I was seeing was true, that some ten percent of the City budget was balanced on The Dump. She said yes, but that figure did not reflect the hidden costs of maintaining The Dump, not to mention the long term depredations caused by dumping garbage in the Pine Bush. (I started to interrupt Nancy at this point, but she snipped at me and I shut up.) For example, there was bonding for heavy equipment, which was spread all over the budget. She said that she could only guess at these costs, because the information was simply unavailable, and she had no way of obtaining it.

Six years have passed, and not much has changed in that department. No one knows what The Dump costs the taxpayers. No one, except, perhaps, The Mayor. Maybe. The information is that well hidden. For all we know, The Dump may be a money losing proposition, another subsidy paid by the City taxpayers to the suburbs.

However, one thing has changed. There is a growing clamor for precise information on Dump revenues and costs. The current (and probably last) City Comptroller, Tom Nitido, has actually sued The City (i.e. The Mayor) for financial information. I had always assumed that Nancy Burton could never get this information because The Mayor hated her guts, but Mr. Nitido has a history of getting along with His Majesty. It is beginning to look more and more like there are nasty little monsters and beasts hiding under The Dump that The Mayor doesn’t want anyone to see.

Riot In City Hall

Meanwhile, the Common Council has begun to rebel, even before the New Year. Common Council member Michael O’Brien (12th Ward) has taken a particular interest in this issue, joining with Dominick Calsolaro (1st Ward) in calling for a special sub-committee to gather financial information on The Dump.

Mr. O’Brien became a convert to the cause of open information during an absolutely amazing session of the Common Council’s General Services Committee last December 1st. This committee almost never meets, obviously something was up. The most pressing matter that night was consideration of Dom Calsolaro’s recently introduced legislation, calling for the City to fulfill its obligations and dedicate the former Fox Run Trailer Park to the Pine Bush Preserve.

Consider? More like find a hole and bury it. You see, Fox Run was the spot where The Mayor wanted to “expand” The Dump, that is, toss more garbage and make more money. The committee’s job, the first item on the agenda in fact, was to jettison Dom’s legislation into limbo. Since the committee, with the exception of Mr. O’Brien, was packed with The Mayor’s pets, this normally wouldn't have been a problem.

Except that the room was also packed with a lot of very, very angry people, some of whom were very well informed. This was the public, who had come to observe the workings of government. The committee tried to suppress public comment, but that didn’t work very well. The public stood up, they shouted, they shook their fists. Elderly people brandished their canes.

The committee shrank back in terror. Lame-duck Common Council member Michael Brown (3rd Ward) actually skittered out of the room and summoned the police, who dutifully abandoned their illegal search-and-seizure station at the front door of City Hall, and stood guard inside the doorway of the room. Reportedly, the officers looked quite uncomfortable.

While the cops were upstairs protecting the politicians from the voters, Osama bin Laden himself could have shuffled through the doors of City Hall and danced the hootchie kootchie in the lobby. Or, even worse, one of the taxpayers could have walked in without emptying his/her pockets and being ritually humiliated for no reason. Imagine, bogus security sacrificed for the real security of free expression. As for Brown, he never summoned the courage to return to the meeting.

First, Dom Calsolaro, who was not part of the committee but could sit at the table (the rules allow that) bawled out his colleagues for trying to freeze the public out of the discussions. Then Dom lambasted them for attempting to avoid dedicating Fox Run to the Pine Bush Preserve.

You see, the City had repeatedly agreed in writing to dedicate the land to the Preserve. Everybody from the State to the Pine Bush Commission to the City itself had been acting as if it was a done deal. Dominick, with his legislation, was merely attempting to make the legalities catch up to reality.

Soft spoken George Robinson stood up, telling the glassy eyed and uncomprehending committee that if the City wanted to make money off of the landfill, there ways to do so without making it bigger. For one thing, he said, it could be mined for recyclables. And several elderly and well-heeled residents who lived nearby made it clear that they were not pleased with having The Dump expand in their faces.

The Mayor of the Village of Colonie, with engineering consultant in tow, told the committee that he was really, really sick and tired of hearing constant complaints from Village residents about the odors and garbage blowing off The Dump. And he had another complaint. It seems that Jerry Jenning’s proposed addition to The Dump included land outside Albany, in Guilderland and in the Village of Colonie.

Oops. The City of Albany had failed to inform either Colonie or Guilderland that they were planning to cover part of their municipalities with garbage and make a profit. Colonie, the Village Mayor said, was considering its options. Certainly, these were ominous words. So... how did he find out about this outrage?

It turns out that the Secretary of the Board of Save the Pine Bush made a little phone call to his office. That would be the wife. Mine spouse, that is. The woman who is causing Jerry Jennings so much pain and distress these days.

In her capacity as Secretary to the Board of Save the Pine Bush, the wife has been quoted opposing The Mayor on the front pages of both of the local daily rags, on TV “news” segments, and the radio. WAMC called one morning as she emerged from the shower, and she gave a quick interview while standing up in our kitchen wearing nothing but black panties and a bra. She broadcasted across a large swath of the Northeast U.S. looking very cute. (Go here to listen to an mp3 of an earlier interview with WAMC about The Dump that she gave while fully dressed.)

History Of Garbage

Lynne is one of the original founders of Save the Pine Bush (SPB) some 28 years ago, and for more than half of that time SPB has been battling the Pine Bush Dump almost without pause. Obviously, SPB hasn’t stopped The Dump from filling with garbage, and they haven’t stopped the City of Albany from engaging in the garbage importing business, but they have severely limited the size and scope of the operation. And, they have managed, through a combination of ground breaking legal action and public information, to cobble together the beginning of a workable Pine Bush Preserve.

Back in 1989, SPB filed lawsuit to stop The Dump from expanding. It didn't stop the expansion, but the suit resulted in the creation of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission. Another "mitigation measure" that resulted from the suit was a directive to the City of Albany to find a new site for a landfill and get it up and running by 1994. That deadline was ignored. And let's not forget the "tipping fees," a portion of Dump revenues that are supposed to go to preserving the remaining Pine Bush. Quite a bit of that money, particularly from the early years remains unaccounted for.

Clearly, the City government doesn’t get it. First Erastus Corning, then Thomas Whalen, and then Jerry Jennings have used their extraordinary “strong mayor” powers to blindly pursue a policy of making the City budget dependent upon importing garbage. All three mayors have happily sacrificed as much pristine Pine Bush as possible in order to give the apparent illusion that they are balancing “this year’s budget.”

Whalen even tried to sell the entire City trash system, including The Dump, in his last year of office. This was an attempt by him to cover up his financial mismanagement, to “privatize” the trash system.

It was the upset primary victory of Jerry Jennings in the 1994 mayoral race that put a final stop to Whalen's privatization scheme. And it should be noted that it was Jimmy Scalzo (10th Ward) who effectively stopped the drive in the Common Council to privatize the Dump, the same Jimmy Scalzo who led the senseless and illegal spot rezoning of Holland Avenue this past month. Go figure.

Of the three last mayors, Jennings is the one who should have known better. Instead of phasing out The Dump and weaning the City off its apparent revenues, he has continued to try to wring more revenue out of it. Over the course of three terms in office, he has entered the fourth term having backed himself into a corner with no way out. And, sad to say, he has grabbed a hostage. He’s crouching in that corner of his own choosing, holding a knife to The City’s throat. (Think of The City as a beautiful woman dressed in filmy garments, clutching her bosom...)

Contemplating A Dumpless Future

Over and over we are hearing dire warnings of what will happen if The Dump goes out of business. Property taxes will go up, 25, 27, 30, 35, 40 per cent! (I’ve heard all these figures.) The City will go broke and the bond rating will drop! And worst of all, City residents will have to pay for garbage removal!

This last detail is the one that we should be the most concerned about. Of course, we are all paying for “free” garbage removal in our taxes. Or, maybe I should say, probably, because the City Budget is so secretive and incomplete that nobody really knows what is going on.

Everyone agrees that City residents should not be required to pay extraordinary fees for trash removal. For one thing, if people have to pay to remove trash, they won’t. Garbage will simply pile up in our neighborhoods. Second, making our poorer residents pay for trash removal is another unfair burden that they don’t deserve. As the wife wrote in an open letter on behalf of Save the Pine Bush, the cost of trash removal “should not be placed upon the backs of the poor.”

New Common Council member Willie Timmons (5th Ward) has expressed to me strong feelings about the continued operation of The Dump. He doesn’t want to see it closed because the people living in his ward will be among the ones who will suffer the most. “They can’t afford to pay for trash removal,” he stated firmly. And, he pointed out, almost unnecessarily, we won’t see taxes go down as compensation for this added burden. Of course, Mr. Timmons is absolutely right.

But of course Albany should take care of its own garbage. We can find the means to process it without having to pay to export it. We can surely find a way to profit from our garbage in a clean manner. And if we don’t have the means readily available, then we need to use our smarts and find a way. If there is a will, it can be done.

That being said, we have no business importing garbage for an apparent profit. This is bogus bogus bogus. The City of Albany is not some empty sprawling West Texas township the size of Rhode Island. It’s the capital of New York State, not the garbage capital of the Northeast. It is wedged into the center of what has become known as the Capital District. There is no room here to import and hide the region’s garbage.

No politician could successfully maintain such an absurd policy indefinitely. It was only a matter of time before the garbage hit the fan and the dump became an insoluble crisis. Jennings has had twelve years to get the City out from under the “Landfill,” but instead he chose to pretend that he could go on like this forever. If he is stuck for a workable solution to this crisis, then he has no one to blame but himself.

It should be noted that The Mayor has been pursuing the not so good idea of opening a new 300 acre dump down in Coeymans, on top of a wetlands among prime farmland. To his surprise, not only did the locals object, they filed successful lawsuits. Jim Travis, who has been leading the fight against the Coeyman’s Dump, has managed to hold off the project for more than nine years.

It looks like Mr. Travis and his neighbors will be able to hold it off indefinitely. Apparently, The Mayor was hoping that this new dump would solve all his problems. Several years ago, I asked him at a CANA meeting about the delayed dedication of Fox Run Trailer Park, was the City planning to use it for an expansion of The Dump? “If I don’t get the dump down in Coeymans,” said The Mayor, resorting to my terminology, “then I will take the trailer park to expand the Landfill.”

Talk about foreshadowing!

Politicians Examined

But now, The Mayor is under a lot of pressure. At a recent public meeting about the development of the Harriman Campus, he was asked, where will the rubble for demolished buildings go? Will it go into the Albany Landfill? According to a reliable source (Claire Nolan, who innocently asked the question) Jennings completely lost his composure. He went off on a long angry rant about The Dump and the proposed expansion, and opposition to it. Those present fidgeted with embarrassment. Clearly, the man needs a long vacation.

One can sympathize. If Mayor Jennings was someone other than a frighteningly dictatorial “unitary executive” who customarily wields power indiscriminately, mercilessly harasses opponents real and imagined, surrounds himself with sycophants and considers the City his own personal property, why, one could feel sorry for him.

Yet in the end, he has been forced to make a partial concession to reality. The Mayor has abandoned his proposal to expand The Dump into Fox Run. He had no choice. Save the Pine Bush had filed suit against the City the day before, and he had no chance of winning it. (Successful lawsuit filed for SPB by Peter Henner, Esq.) But you gotta admire the man. Like a prize fighter, The Mayor bobbed and weaved and came up swinging even though he was tired and bloodied.

He has proposed another plan, a desperate, hastily conceived plan. A really bad plan that, if successful, could undermine the entire park and land preservation system in New York State. He now wants to take ten acres of land out of the Pine Bush Preserve, land that has been dedicated to the Preserve since the 1970’s, and use it as a dump.

The problem with this plan is that it will take an act of the State Legislature. Dedicated parkland cannot be undedicated without approval of both houses and the governor. Unfortunately, this latest travesty may be doable.

We all know that current Governor Pataki is Jerry’s buddy. It is true that Pataki has tried to nurture an environmental image for himself, and has even pledged support for Pine Bush land acquisition in a couple of his State of the State addresses. And, he seems to think that he is running for President of the United States, so he would surely want to be able to point to having left behind a “green” legacy. But on the other hand, he needs a handy receptacle for garbage generated by the State. And he absolutely detests the City of Albany. He will probably approve the expansion.

Assemblyman Jack McEneny, whose district includes The Dump, has reportedly made noises in favor of undedicating the land. McEneny is an old school politician, the kind that sees politics as an elaborate game between various power groups. Having abandoned his quest to become Mayor of Albany, he has gotten along well with Jennings, and tends to ally with him on most issues. He has blocked the undedicating of Pine Bush in the past, but that was when he was running for mayor. He will probably enthusiastically support Jennings on this unless he stands to gain something by opposing him.

The Mayor does not get along so famously with Senator Neil Breslin, but perhaps that does not matter. Mr. Breslin is part of the Senate Minority, and The Mayor has been widely reported as negotiating with the Majority Leader, Joe Bruno. He and Bruno have been talking about the proposed downtown convention center, but it is easy to imagine that other pressing topics have come up in their conversations.

But don’t count out Neil Breslin. There is a report that he may be in line for the job of Minority Leader, as David Patterson, the current Minority Leader, may quit to run for Lieutenant-Governor. So far, Mr. Breslin has not made any statements on the proposed undedication.

The wild card in all of this is how closely the public pays attention. All of these politicians have their own agendas, but they all understand that if they want to keep their jobs they had better keep the public happy, or at least uninterested. How much they hear from us peons and proles will be the ultimate determining factor. And, it is clear that the public is paying attention to this issue more than ever before.

Intense Encounter

The Mayor announced his dramatic change of plan for expanding The Dump during his State of the City address in January. But this speech was delivered the very next day after Save the Pine Bush filed their sure-to-win lawsuit against the City to stop the expansion of The Dump. Now, that's timing. Talk about a well choreographed dance. SPB won the lawsuit in about 20 hours, a record for them and a triumph for their lawyer, Peter Henner.

When he was done delivering his State of the City speech, The Mayor stood outside the Common Council chambers and gripped my wife’s hands. “Work with me, Lynne” he said to her, almost desperately. “Work with me on this.”

“Jerry,” she said, “Is the 10 acres dedicated to the Preserve?”

“Yes,” he said, “But you should see it. It’s not good Pine Bush. It’s in terrible condition. Work with me on this.”

No way, the wife told the corporate media the next day when her head stopped spinning. It sets a bad precedent. This land is supposed to be “forever wild.” If you take 10 acres out of Preserve to expand The Dump today, what happens next time you want to expand The Dump? Where does it stop?

The more they increase the capacity of The Dump, the more the City will be tempted to increase revenues (and balance the budget) by writing more contracts and taking in more garbage. The more capacity, the more garbage. It’s a vicious cycle that only ends when there is no more Pine Bush Preserve. And that is unacceptable.

Prior Post * * * Next Post

This site maintained by Lynne Jackson of Jackson's Computer Services.