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Updated
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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.


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June 2, 2010

The Jerry Jennings Memorial Dump Fee Bond

A routine backroom tax hike becomes controversial and reveals some of the forces at work inside the new Common Council

For the first time in living memory, a City of Albany Common Council has openly defied a sitting mayor on a matter of substance. It began when Jerry Jennings demanded money from the taxpayers, as usual, this time in the form of interest bearing bonds to pay for expanding Jerry Jennings’ Memorial Dump, officially known as the Rapp Road “Landfill.” This is Jennings’ personal permanent legacy, a mountain of leaking garbage rippled with toxic sludge that He has dumped upon the City that He despises.

Rather than dumbly and stupidly agree to carry out Mayor Jerry Jennings orders without question like they almost always do, some of the Common Council members actually demanded for a little while that the Mayor explain why He “needs” to force City of Albany taxpayers to subsidize corporate waste haulers with this bond. Of course no explanations for this subsidy were forthcoming from the Mayor, that was not an option.

No one is allowed to know anything about the City of Albany budget. Secrecy, you see, is a method of control. An open budget would mean final loss of control by Jennings, and possibly public exposure of criminal activities that His Majesty desperately needs to conceal. The Mayor is raising our taxes to pay for His Dump, why is not our concern.

Part Of The Rapp Road "Landfill," Note How Waste Is Encroaching Upon The Green "Restored" Part Of The Dump {Photo Bert Schou}Part Of The Rapp Road "Landfill," Note How Waste Is Encroaching Upon The Green "Restored" Part Of The Dump {Photo Bert Schou}
Part Of The Rapp Road "Landfill," Note How Waste Is Encroaching Upon The Green "Restored" Part Of The Dump {Photo Bert Schou}

This Dump Fee Bond vote was one of four Dump bonds that Jennings had ordered the Common Council to approve. The Mayor’s majority minions on the Council were easily able to saddle the taxpayers with three of these bonds without any trouble. The one particular act of bonding that was temporarily held up by the Council is an $18 million dollar bond issue for “restoration of the Pine Bush,” actually a temporary dirt cap for one part of The Dump.

Jerry Jennings
Jerry Jennings

Yes, that’s right. Never mind that this sort of “restoration” on top of Jennings’ mountain of garbage and toxic sludge is utterly bogus and a complete waste of money. No pitch pine trees or karner blue butterflies will ever live there again. This phony “restoration” is meant to do nothing more than conceal the sight and smell of the “landfill” mountain of crap for a little while... until more garbage is dropped on top of the “restoration.”

The State of New York, you see, has mandated that an extra ten dollars must be charged for each ton of crap dumped onto the new expanded part of The Dump. Now if the State followed it’s own rules it would shut down Jerry’s Dump today. But rather than set an example by obeying it’s own laws, the State once again came up with some sort of lame-o “mitigation,” this includes the extra fee that is supposed to be paid by the corporate waste haulers.

If the City does not collect the fee, the State won’t let Jennings expand His Dump. But Jerry Jennings cannot bring Himself to charge His corporate waste hauler buddies this extra fee as the State intended. Instead, He is demanding that Albany taxpayers pay the fee, plus interest.

His justification for urinating on the taxpayers instead of charging the corporate haulers has been to point out that there is indeed a massive glut of available landfill space locally, and that the Jennings Memorial Dump, which already charges half what other dumps charge, “must remain competitive.” But the corporate haulers have already said that if they have to pay the extra ten bucks a ton they will do so. The existing fees for dumping on Albany are so cheap that they don’t really mind.

What it comes down to is that Jennings loves and admires corporate waste haulers and He despises the City taxpayers. I know that sounds crass but unfortunately that’s the sad truth. Our Mayor is working through His own mental problems by destroying “His” own community. If you don’t believe that, then take a ride out Washington Avenue Extension and look up at the sky. You come up with a better explanation for why He piled all that shit on top of the Pine Bush.

Plastic Bags Constantly Blow Off The Rapp Road "Landfill" And Kill Pine Bush Vegetation {Photo Bert Schou}
Plastic Bags Constantly Blow Off The Rapp Road "Landfill" And Kill Pine Bush Vegetation {Photo Bert Schou}

The trouble started when the Dump Fee Bond vote came up for the first time. Freshman Council member Lester Freeman (Ward 2) suddenly and dramatically joined with the responsible minority and voted “no.” You see, there are fifteen members of the Council. Bonding away our future needs a super-majority of two thirds, ten votes. Mr. Freeman’s unanticipated no vote added number six to the minority of five and brought Jennings’ Dump Bond Fee to a standstill.

What made his vote a real shocker for regular observers of the Albany political scene is that Mr. Freeman has previously had a reputation for pandering to the Mayor. Indeed, the initial reactions that I heard were pretty much wondering what the 2nd Ward member was trying to pull. I have to admit that after a moment of cognitive dissonance (“Who? Lester? You sure about that?”) I shared the same opinion.

Lester Freeman
Lester Freeman

Several days after the vote I had an opportunity to chat with Mr. Freeman, I asked him why the no vote. To my surprise he told me that he couldn’t vote for a bonding measure without seeing some sort of financial justification for issuing more bonds. “The administration has to provide the Council with an accounting of the costs associated with the Landfill,” he said. “I can’t vote for something I don’t understand.”

Another moment of cognitive dissonance, I’m not used to hearing Council members other than my own representative Mr. Calsolaro making statements like that. I then informed Mr. Freeman that Save the Pine Bush has been repeatedly asking the City for a full cost accounting of The Dump every year for over ten years without any success. His reaction to this bit of information was to stare at me with his mouth open for about five seconds, his own moment of cognitive dissonance.

Very interesting! I have two interpretations of Mr. Freeman’s reaction to my news. First, up until that point he must have assumed that of course the City has had at least some sort of accounting available and that the Mayor simply chose to withhold it from the Council. Any reasonable person would assume that. Not only was I telling him that no accounting has ever been available, the Mayor has no intention of providing any sort of accounting anytime ever unless He is forced to do so, perhaps at gunpoint.

Second, Mr. Freeman appeared to me sincere in his desire to have basic financial information that has traditionally been denied to the Common Council and to the taxpayers. “My constituents (mostly in the South End) are the least able to pay if costs for garbage removal go up,” he said. “I owe it them to find out as much as I can.”

So I asked Mr. Freeman about his current employment. He proceeded to make sure I understood that he is no longer beholden to the City or the county and owes nothing political to anybody. That’s certainly encouraging, but as I like to say with all elected officials, we’ll eventually see if that is true.

Increasingly Rare Karner Blue Butterflies {Photo Grace Nichols
Increasingly Rare Karner Blue Butterflies {Photo Grace Nichols}

Dominick Calsolaro (1st Ward) is of course at the center of the Council’s responsible minority that demands cost accounting, at one time he was the only representative displaying financial integrity. Right from the beginning of his first four year term (he’s in his third) he has consistently annoyed the Mayor’s minions by opposing the City’s out of control habit of bonding for everything, including office supplies. At one point Jerry Jennings’ response was to publicly call Dominick nasty names and to order all City departments to ignore his requests on behalf of his constituents.

Dominick Calsolaro
Dominick Calsolaro

During his first term in the early part of the last decade I sat in a Common Council meeting and watched Dominick stand alone in opposition to an uneccessarry bond issue, this was unprecedented. No one was allowed to defy the Mayor! These votes that quietly screw us taxpayers were supposed to be unanimous. This was because, in those pre-internet days, no one in City government was supposed to call attention to these kind of gross financial rip-offs. This was understood by everybody, so what was Dominick’s problem? Not a team player?

When it came time to vote, I watched one Common Council member after another stand up and nastily berate Dominick for daring to do the right thing. I sat disgusted, thinking to myself what a bunch of spineless braindead scumballs, how dare they. Dominick looked battered and distressed at the ritual abuse and even became apologetic, but he didn’t back down and he cast the lone vote in opposition to the bond.

Dominick doesn’t like me to tell that story, but I consider it one of his finest moments. I know exactly what he went through, I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve had to sit and listen to a group of idiots take turns telling me what a jerk I am. That evening Dominick stood tall before the idiots, sustained solely by the firm conviction that he was the only one in the chamber who was right. And he was.

A month after the first Dump Fee Bond vote the Mayor found a defector among the responsible minority and ordered his minions to call for a second vote. I couldn’t begin to explain why Cathy Fahey (7th Ward) has always been so undecided on “landfill” issues, for me it’s all black and white yes or no. I can tell you that because of her chronic fence sitting Cathy has had to endure quite a bit of pressure from both sides.

Jackie Jenkins-Cox
Jackie Jenkins-Cox

Sad to say, Ms. Fahey defected to the irresponsible majority as expected. But then without any warning whatsoever Jackie Jenkins-Cox (5th Ward) joined the responsible side, voting no to the bonding. From the Hearst Times Union:

Jenkins-Cox... said she changed her vote after hearing from three constituents Friday about the increasingly heavy tax burden the City is foisting on them. "If we keep voting to pass bond after bond, it's only going to increase their taxes," she said. "I think my constituents are going to be happy that I did this for them." The turnabout prompted Councilman Lester Freeman, who opposes the borrowing, to openly celebrate with a fist pump and broad smile as Jenkins-Cox registered her vote, which clearly stunned others.

That’s what a representative is supposed to do. Call me a crazy fool if you want, but I believe that the voters should be the most important lobbyists in an elected official’s life. The Mayor’s wishes are certainly important, but His will should always come at least second to the needs of the taxpayers.

Jennings displayed His bafflement at temporarily losing control of the Council by making some ill-considered public statements. From Hearst:

"It's very irresponsible. No one has offered any reasonable, or responsible, alternatives. They have to look at the bigger picture here," Jennings said. "They should also have to ask their constituents... if we close the landfill, if they want to have to pay to have their trash picked up."

Utter irresponsible nonsense out of the Mayor’s mouth. Plenty of concerned citizens, including the very active and robust Save the Pine Bush Landfill Committee, have been literally bombarding City officials with ideas and potential solutions to the Jennings Garbage Crisis. City officials, true to form, have consistently refused to pay the slightest attention. As overpaid garbage consultant Bill Bruce is fond of saying to citizens who make suggestions, “We looked into that and found it can’t be done.”

Leah Golby
Leah Golby

As for the cost of domestic trash removal, Leah Golby (10th Ward) summed up the problem succinctly by saying, “Does the Landfill make money? That’s the bottom line, really.” Jennings and His minions repeatedly claim that The Dump makes money for the City but they offer no proof of that assertion. In fact, the available evidence indicates that the Jennings Memorial is a money pit, in that sense it really is a “landfill” for cash.

An increasing number of citizens are beginning to suspect that it may actually be cheaper for City consumers to pay to have trash hauled elsewhere. Last year Treasurer Kathy Sheehan during her campaign dared to suggest this option as possibly viable, and not an unthinkable horror to be avoided at all costs to the taxpayer. But as Ms. Sheehan repeatedly stated, “We won’t know until we have a full cost accounting of the Landfill.”

Uncollected Rapp Road Landfill Runoff
Uncollected Rapp Road Landfill Runoff

The Mayor’s third attempt to pass His Dump Fee Bond was successful. Jackie Jenkins-Cox, caught between her constituents and the Mayor’s personality, apparently decided that the best thing to do was to not show up for the Common Council meeting. I’m sure that Ms. Jenkins-Cox had other very good reasons to not show up and earn her pay that night, perhaps she had to water her plants or donate a kidney or something.

Ms. Jenkins-Cox was of the picture, but Jerry Jennings was able to find a defector from the responsible minority. Otherwise, He wouldn’t have ordered another vote. As it was, He managed to entice freshman Anton Konev (11th Ward) into voting against the City.

Up until almost the last minute Mr.’ Konev continued to state his firm opposition to the Dump Fee Bond. For the past year Mr. Konev’s website has included a strong condemnation of the “landfill” expansion and the secretive budget process as part of his platform. But sometime in these last few weeks that particular page on his campaign website condemning the Dump has disappeared.

Anton Konev
Anton Konev

What happened? After less than six months in office, Mr. Konev has developed such a negative reputation that a lot of people are afraid to talk to him. People are saying that he is crazy, that he is nuts. I hear it over and over. But that’s totally wrong.

By my observation Mr. Konev is quite sane, in fact he may be one of the more solidly sane people holding elected office in Albany today. So why the bad rep? Part of the problem is his appearance and his outspokeness. But the big problem is some of the causes he has loudly championed these past few months.

To examine one example, there’s his proposal to require that a prayer be recited at the start of every Common Council meeting. Almost everyone in the City reacted to the proposal as an unwanted distraction guaranteed to create unnecessary conflict at a time when the City cannot afford such luxuries. Predictably, only the usual bunch of lunatic fringe Protestants supported the proposal, so in many people’s minds Mr. Konev has become associated with the far rightist fundamentalists and TV preachers.

But Mr. Konev is not some fundy trying to create chaos for doctrinal reasons, he is a devoted communicant of the Orthodox Church. For those who don’t know, the Orthodox Church is older than the Catholic Church, and it is the second largest Christian denomination with 300 million adherents. Call Anton whatever you want, but don’t confuse him with the Protestant lunatic fringe.

The problem with Anton is that he was not born and raised in this country, he arrived here as a teenager and he is currently only 25 years old. During this short time he has not completely acquired the basic assumptions that almost all of us who were born and raised in this society have absorbed as children. In this case, he does not quite appear to understand the complex rules governing religious tolerance and religious freedom that we natives take for granted and rarely think about.

In short, there is a cultural disconnect between Anton Kotev and the general public which the public incorrectly interprets as craziness on his part. I expect that Mr. Konev has been baffled by the public’s reaction to his prayer proposal. And I’ suspect that he would rather be called crazy than to be told that he is not in tune with the native American point of view.

Anton Konev
Anton Konev

A while back I discovered an important truism of politics: elected officials only do what someone tells them to do. Ideally, they do what the voters tell them to do, but all too often the voters are lazy or scared or indifferent and they neglect to tell their politicians what to do. So with The People absent or silent, our lonely elected officials end up listening to political bosses, scam artists or corporate lobbyists, all out for a taxpayer buck.

In Albany, the lonely politicians end up listening to the Mayor. He is always there like the devil, whispering in your ear telling you the things you want to hear.

Jennings bought off Mr. Konev with the old non-binding resolution trick. That same night, at the Mayor’s orders, the Council passed a resolution asking the Mayor to please try to negotiate a better deal with the corporate haulers. This resolution may as well have also promised that each member of the Council gets ice cream every day for breakfast and their very own real live shetland pony as a pet. Whatever the resolution says matters not one bit to anyone and affects nothing.

To be fair, Mr. Calsolaro himself once fell for this trick, this at the beginning of the current final Dump expansion (this being the fifth final expansion never to be repeated.) Shortly after that 2006 vote Dominick became quite angry when he realized he’d been duped by the Mayor, and swore he would never make that mistake again. (Several times I’ve heard former Council member and mayoral candidate Corey Ellis point out that he had a better voting record on the Dump than Dominick, this vote is what he referred to.)

Sure, once again I’m saying out loud what no one wants to hear. But Jerry Jennings observed Mr. Konev’s isolation and He became Anton’s friend. Seen in this light, no one should be surprised at the 11th Ward Council member’s reversal on endlessly expanding Jerry’s Dump.

Jennings Memorial Dump AT Rapp Road {Bert Schou photo}
Jennings Memorial Dump At Rapp Road {Bert Schou photo}

So Jerry’s will shall be done and the taxpayers are screwed again. Allegedly the Jennings Memorial Dump produces “between $4 and $5 million” in revenue for the City a year. But there is absolutely no evidence to support this assertion, more likely Jerry’s Dump loses $4 to $5 million every year. Perhaps it loses even more than that.

A week back the corporate media gave everyone a scare with a bogus report that probable future NY State governor Andrew Cuomo was considering Jerry Jennings as his Lt. Governor running mate. For three days or so I reassured quite a few people that such a thing was unlikely because the Mayor is too politically toxic. Outside of the Capital District no one knows who Jennings is, and too many Democrats in Albany County hate His guts and would never support Him.

But Jennings has supported Mr. Cuomo consistently, even going so far as to help sabotage H. Carl McCall’s gubernatorial campaign after Cuomo lost a statewide Democratic primary. Most certainly Jennings is expecting a reward for His devotion, and certainly Mr. Cuomo will be obliged to make a return on Jennings’ political investment. That is, if Mr. Cuomo makes it into the Governor’s Mansion on Eagle Street.

That reward will be in the form of patronage. But at age 62 Jennings is looking at retirement, He is not looking to restart a political career. And Jennings probably does not have any special skills that a new governor could use, such as, for example, an eye for financial detail. Or an ability to keep and report on information. Or system management skills.

And the Mayor is terrible at running a business, look how He runs His Dump. He manages people mostly by a combination of terror and deceit, not a good way to win new friends. He hasn’t even demonstrated an ability to win elections, at least not fairly and not without an overwhelming cash advantage.

Jennings With Andrew Cuomo
Jennings With Andrew Cuomo

So what kind of job would Jerry Jennings get from future governor Cuomo, a position so good that Jennings would want to wait before He retires to that Florida condo? For Jennings to accept the job, it would have to pay well. But it would have to be a nothing job with no responsibilities, otherwise sooner or later Jennings would most certainly find a way to become a serious political problem for Mr. Cuomo.

Perhaps Jennings will move out to the suburbs and become the Statewide commissioner in charge of watching for tidal waves. Or perhaps He would prefer Florida. But no matter what His Majesty decides to do, we will always have His Memorial Dump in the Pine Bush to remind us of why we have ruined neighborhoods, inefficient unresponsive government, expensive privatization and higher taxes. That’s the Jennings legacy.


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Comments:
If you are having difficulties posting a comment, please email Daniel Van Riper. We are experimenting with our spam filters, and we do not want to exclude any legitimate commenters, just spammers!


Posted by:KG_rider
Posted on:06/05/2010
Comments:
I notice whenever the subject of the Pine Bush comes up two groups are usually mentioned... the Pine Bush Commission and Save the Pine Bush. Do they share the same mission? It seems like Save the Pine Bush is always in court while the Commission, responsible for the stewardship of the parcel, always seems to remain silent. Just wondering why they do not appear to work together on Pine Bush issues.


Posted by:Dan Van Riper
Posted on:06/06/2010
Comments:

KG_rider- Good question, a lot of people are confused by the two groups. Here's the difference:

Save the Pine Bush is an all volunteer organization founded in 1978 by a group of Albany citizens angry at the City's lawless and destructive policies directed against the Pine Bush ecosystem. They have no office and no paid staff. Their budget comes almost entirely from local small contributions.

The Albany Pine Bush Management Commission was created by State mandate in 1989 as a response to some of Save the Pine Bush's lawsuits. Creating the Commission was a "mitigation measure" supposed to offset the harmful effects of an earlier "final" expansion of the Rapp Road Dump. (All five expansions during the past 25 years have been "final.")

Save the Pine Bush is the citizen engine that drives efforts to preserve the Pine Bush from sprawl and other profit-driven attacks. The PB Commission is a quasi-State agency that manages the Pine Bush ecosystem on a day to day basis. PB Commission staff and employees are State workers.

Because of politics the PB Commission has to step very carefully and not be seen consorting with Save the Pine Bush, which the State considers to be The Enemy. But I can tell you that most of the time SPB and the PB Commission quietly get along well... but not always. Sometimes SPB has to publicly jab at the PB Commission or even file lawsuits to get them back on track. But usually in practice both entities are on the same side working to save the PB ecosystem.

The Pine Bush exists today solely because of 32 years of work by Save the Pine Bush. If the citizen taxpayers at SPB were to give up the fight, the State and local politicians would quietly defund the PB Commission and the remaining Pine Bush would quickly be replaced by sprawl.


Posted by:KG_rider
Posted on:06/10/2010
Comments:
Thank you, Dan. I noticed both websites (SPB and PBC) rarely mention each other but your response clarified the whole thing for me.
Regarding the landfill, my feeling is Jennings is trying to fill the dump ASAP in order to force DEC to accept the City's request to use the Coeymans site. Once its filled Jennings holds the trump card and the area will pretty much have no alternative and DEC will approve the Coeymans site.
Regarding the Pine Bush, I do not agree with the Commissions restoration process where they remove every tree, shrub and blade of grass along with any insect/bug etc that lives within the top 5 inches of soil (that is all graded away by bulldozers). Whats left is a desert like moonscape where no life at exists. The Commission then plants wild flowers and other grasses and subsequently releases Blue Karners and hopes they survive. But what about all the wildlife destroyed in order to create an environment for the BK butterfly? It appears that the Commission is going too far in messing with Mother Nature. Also, the Commission has been closing more and more trails throughout the PB restricting access for hikers, etc.


Posted by:Sharon Rapp Casterlin
Posted on:11/10/2010
Comments:
You want to see how the Pine Bush
Commission works? Drive by Rapp Rd./Lincoln Ave. and see the demolition of hundred year old trees and woods so that "free" sand can be stored for the future "restoration" of the Pine Bush and the returning of the land to "original Pine Bush conditions"! Check to the right of the horse farm and creek. The Pine Bush Commission is okay with this!


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