Op-ed column: Salt fiasco is another problem piled on old Nero

The biggest scandal in recent memory rocked Nero within weeks of the depressed and fictional upstate
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The biggest scandal in recent memory rocked Nero within weeks of the depressed and fictional upstate city getting an unexpected financial boost.

The mills moved out of Nero 50 years ago, and things have gone from bad to worse until this winter’s rock salt shortage.

When mills were being torn down in Nero quicker than you could say urban renewal, then-mayor Frank Martamula used a windfall in federal depressed city aid to buy tons and tons of rock salt that the city stockpiled on the site of an abandoned sock mill near the Keepthemunda Creek.

Martamula, who was known ever after as Old Salty, said that Nero would not have to pay for rock salt until well after his death. He died last month.

Sure, there were problems over the years. A fish kill in the creek was blamed on the salt stockpile, and the city had to install a plastic barrier to prevent further runoff using money from a member item from the local assemblyman. There were rumors that the grant money got frittered away and all that was done was to put down some plastic bags from the Wal-mart outside town to hold back the leaching salt.

The rock salt cache figured in last year’s Nero election. The supervisor of the neighboring and affluent town of Keepthemundaville established dual residency in Nero using the address of his aged mother and was elected mayor of the struggling city.

Supervisor Pepper offered to serve as mayor for free in return for a guaranteed supply of rock salt from the Nero cache for his growing town.

Huge demand

As you may have heard, communities from Schenectady to Fulton County have had problems getting enough rock salt this winter and Nero has been sitting pretty, able to sell salt not only to Keepthemundaville but to such unlikely venues as Syracuse, the former salt city. Money was pouring in to the city treasury, and politicians were about to break out into a chorus of “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

“The salt lost its savor the last couple weeks,” said conservative radio talk host Mike Van Wilson of WNRO as he recounted the tale while nibbling on french (formerly Freedom) fries at Nero’s Four Clover Tavern.

“I’ve brought along some clips from the local rag, the Nero Nation,” Mike said helpfully. “Here’s a headline when things were good, ‘Nero salt pile is source of long-term wealth says Mayor Pepper.’ Then, ‘Other communities complain Nero is engaging in salt shakedown.’ But the scandal broke with this one, ‘Crooked DPW ring stealing and selling salt.’ ”

In a scandal reminiscent of police problems in Schenectady, a rogue group of plow operators in the Nero Department of Public Works was taking truckloads of salt from the city every day to a remote location in Keepthemundaville where they established their own salt pile, selling salt under the table to the highest bidder and pocketing the cash.

Money lost forever

A state police sting busted up the plow driver ring — the Nero Nation headline was, “Staties say salt ring washed away.”

“The upshot was we’re worse off than when we started,” said Mike. “The money was not recovered. Mayor Pepper says the crooked plowmen took so much salt that we hardly have enough left this winter for Nero, not even enough for Pepper’s cul-de-sac laden Keepthemundaville. In fact, Pepper is so turned off by Nero politics that he wants to resign as mayor.”

Mike turned his attention to Stan the bartender and commented, “Stan, these fries are more tasteless than usual. I’ve used half the salt shaker already. Can you do something about that? Nero doesn’t have much salt to spare.”

Bob Cudmore lives in Scotia and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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