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New ethics policy in Sch’dy district sign of board’s commitment

Tuesday, October 16, 2012
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New ethics policy in Sch’dy district sign of board’s commitment

This is to comment on Michael Goot’s Oct. 4 article on the Schenectady City School District’s new ethics policy and the related Oct. 5 political cartoon.

As co-chair (with Ann Reilly) of the Schenectady City School Board’s Policy Committee, maybe I should complain because there wasn’t a caricature of me standing beside Ms. Reilly in the cartoon, holding a policy that was pitifully small compared to the gap in the wall she was standing in, saying “We’re closing a few holes left by a previous board.”

Instead I’d like to comment on the substance of the cartoon, namely that the ethics problems of the district run much deeper than a mere policy can address. I agree. A policy by itself doesn’t change anything. Instead, the new policy reflects substantive changes in the way the district operates.

When I was first elected, Eric Ely was still superintendent. Listening to him advocate action because it was within the district’s power, I was disappointed because my own concern was about what was right. It didn’t matter if the district had the power if it wasn’t right; if it was, there are plenty of ways to accomplish things besides force.

Both Interim Superintendent John Yagielski and new Superintendent Laurence Spring have shown me, by contrast, that their concern is figuring out what is right (and when in doubt, to prioritize children over adults.) The former’s nearly two-year tenure demonstrated this, and I have no doubt that the latter’s will, too.

But the culture of an organization as large as the Schenectady City School District shifts slowly. First, citizens voted in a new board, who replaced the superintendent, who in turn flattened the organization structure and made personnel decisions, which continue.

At the board level, even before the spousal recusal policy change was voted on, a member abstained from voting because it concerned their spouse. Changes in financial procedures have been made, not in response to wrongdoing or allegations of wrongdoing — but because it was the right thing to do.

Shifting how the district operates eventually required a new ethics policy — to reflect change, rather than because we imagined it would create change. Recent Gazette stories have highlighted ethical problems involving the towns of Milton and Princetown, the New York state Assembly and Senate, as well as the organizing body of Section II athletics.

Ethics issues seem more newsworthy when policies aren’t effective; such issues addressed internally mostly result in corrective actions but no headlines. I expect our policy to work not by itself, but because it reflects the district’s growing awareness of how essential strong ethical boundaries are to the health of our school district. I’m prepared to insist on them for others as well as be held accountable to them myself.

If the Gazette, or your readers, are aware of actual or potential ethical concerns with respect to the Schenectady City School District, or of suggested changes to its policies or practices with respect to ethics, please let us know about them. I don’t want that hole in the wall of ethics shown in your cartoon any more than your cartoonist does.

Andy Chestnut

Schenectady

Montgomery County shouldn’t change charter

Regarding the possible change in the way Montgomery County does business, i.e., the “charter” vs. Board of Supervisors, we are being admonished to learn the facts before we vote on the proposition in November.

Unfortunately, in the huge jump into the abyss of “improving government,” there are few facts available to show how this proposed change would actually work. There are printed guidelines, and then there are suppositions, and even more questions. The facts will only become visible if and when this thing becomes law. Then it will be too late to change our minds.

For example, what are the qualifications to run for county executive? According to the charter, he or she need only be a qualified voter in the county. That’s it! Some are worried that the treasurer should be qualified, but the county executive needs no qualifications! Boy, is that democracy or what?

How about the pay for the county executive? Here again we won’t have a clue until and if this thing passes muster this fall. What will the legislators get paid?

Has anyone crunched the numbers to see what this “new” government is going to cost us? We will still have our town supervisors (paid), now nine legislators going to Fonda (paid) instead of the 15 supervisors, and a county executive (paid) and all the assistants (paid) he or she may need. What about benefit packages for all these folks?

Does this new government give us as taxpayers more access to the decision making? Well, we will still have our town supervisor, but they will not be going to Fonda anymore, except maybe to get license plates! They will be beholden to their elected legislator and will have to compete with others in their district for information and possibly services.

The legislators will be overseeing larger districts and, thereby, will see their effectiveness and influence be diluted, both at home and in Fonda. This proposal does put another level of government (spelled: bureaucracy) between the voter-taxpayer, and the people, or person in this case that will be making the decisions.

The most dangerous part of the charter, is the power that is vested in the county executive. The executive makes virtually all the appointments, tells each department how it is to be organized and run, and does all this with the supposed blessings of the Legislature. In the real world, the executive will make the proposals, create the flow charts, and in general be the point person the Legislature will look to for information in order to get the Legislature’s approval. What makes the Legislature more effective than the current Board of Supervisors?

It has been claimed that this proposal will take some of the politics out of the running of the county. The truth is that politics are here to stay and changing their form will not make them go away, because “people” will still be running the store.

The charter will cost more to run, isolate us as taxpayers from the decisions and create an all-powerful position in the county executive who may well “get things done,” but we as taxpayers may not like the process or have much to say about it for four years.

Earl F. Spencer

Canajoharie

Nothing to criticize driver for on actions after crash

Re Phil Arony’s Oct. 8 letter (“‘Dedicated’ driver who crashed should be held accountable”): What more, exactly, does Mr. Arony think the driver should have done?

Should he have stayed and held the power pole aloft in his bare hands? Maybe he should have reattached the downed wires himself or stood in the middle of the road and directed traffic. Maybe he should have teleported Mr. Arony to work so he wouldn’t be late. These suggestions all sound silly, because they are.

National Grid, the police and the fire department were there, doing those things because it is what we pay them to do. The driver did what he was supposed to do in the case of an accident: He called for help. He waited on the scene for emergency medical services and police to arrive. He answered the officer’s questions, and — by Mr. Arony’s own words — “admitted to inattention at the wheel as the cause.” Sounds pretty honest to me — which shows much more responsibility than most people.

Of course, all Mr. Arony knows is what he read and saw in the aftermath, so for all he knows “inattention” could be anything from changing a radio station to sneezing. We’re very sorry his day was interrupted by someone else’s misfortune. I’m sure he is a perfect driver who has never had an accident and glides through life completely blame-free of any mistakes.

Mr. Arony has no clue what actually happened as far as accountability or cause before, during or after the accident, so maybe he should lay off the high-and-mighty judgments a bit.

Sean Mearns

Scotia

Godlewski’s got a good idea for ruined homes

We read with interest the Oct. 11 article regarding a proposal by Rotterdam Town Board member Bob Godlewski. It addresses the problem of a double-digit number of properties in Rotterdam Junction left devastated by Hurricane Irene. Bob cited a program offered by the state that would allow some [Rotterdam] Junction home owners to sell their ruined homes to the town and get on with their lives. The properties would then be turned into “green spaces.”

The thought of driving through this hamlet and seeing the landscape dotted with scenic areas instead of uninhabitable structures seems like a win-win. His reference to the blight of the city of Schenectady’s abandoned, boarded-up houses, well, speaks for itself.

But it comes as no surprise the town of Rotterdam’s supervisor, Harry Buffardi, is apparently not going to show any support for what would be a viable solution. His fear that the demolition of these properties would hamper any redevelopment is nonsense — and, please, enough with the old tax-rolls trump card.

Perhaps Supervisor Buffardi should try getting some feedback from some of the residents, as Bob did. This program seems like a reasonable step in the right direction to continue Rotterdam Junction’s road to recovery.

Let’s stop with the politics and make the interests of these Rotterdam residents a priority, as Bob is trying to do.

Sue and Dan Lindsay

Rotterdam

Santabarbara, county right to back electric cars

It is nice to see the Schenectady County Legislature take the lead on efforts to promote electric car use within our county. I commend Legislator Angelo Santabarbara for being the sole sponsor of a resolution seeking a grant to build vehicle charging stations in the county, and I am glad that he was able to persuade his colleagues to support the measure. Electric cars benefit the environment, reduce dependence on foreign oil and, in this era of exorbitant fuel prices, save serious money.

It is encouraging that the county is moving toward converting a portion of its own fleet of vehicles to electric, as this should produce meaningful savings to the taxpayer. In addition, the installation of charging stations at county facilities to support these vehicles will also benefit citizens who choose to drive electric, since these charging stations will be available for public use as well.

The installation of charging stations at locations such as the central library, SCCC [Schenectady County Community College], Glendale Home and the county office building will also serve to help promote the development of an electric car infrastructure that will support our national effort to increase the number of these energy-efficient, environmentally friendly vehicles on our highways.

I applaud Legislator Santabarbara for his forward thinking.

Patrick J. Saccocio

Schenectady

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comments

October 16, 2012
12:04 p.m.
newyorker65 says...

To Sean Mearns - thank you for putting into words what some of here where I work were thinking! Poor Mr. Arony seems to have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed that morning!

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