Wednesday, December 3, 2008

News That Matters - December 3, 2008

News That Matters
Brought to you by PlanPutnam.Org

"They just can't help themselves, can they? Call it "retention pay" or "cash bonuses" or some other euphemism -- but the fact is that your tax dollars are going to reward people who are lucky to even have jobs." - Jonathan Tasini

Good Wednesday Morning,

The Proposed Tilly Foster Contract

Wow. Talk about a sweetheart deal! Over the past few months, Kent resident George Whipple has been in discussion with County Executive Bondi over an idea Mr. W had regarding the management of the Tilly Foster Farm. Those discussions led to a draft contract, dated November of this year which would allow Mr. W to run the farm for 40 years. Sounds good, no? Here are some of the details of this sweetheart of sweetheart deals:

Disclaimer: No matter how much my mother wanted me to be one, I am not a lawyer nor have I ever played one on television, radio or stage. In fact, I probably know nothing about the law whatsoever and when it comes to legal things I'm probably just talking out my butt. Keep that in mind while we wend through the legal language of this contract. Any misunderstandings or mistakes are the sole responsibility of the reader and not the writer of this article. That, according to Section 6, subsection A, paragraph 4-E, I'm off the hook for anything that might become a legal issue at any point during the next 40 years whether it has anything to do with me or not. The following is strictly opinion and not meant to be surmised as learned, educated or factually known to the writer. In fact, just consider that this is all an hallucination and that you're really reading Yachting Magazine.
  1. The county would lease the entirety of Tilly Foster, all the buildings and all the lands to Mr. W until December 21, 2048.
  2. Mr. W gets to do all the hiring for any position he feels is required to meet his goals. He promises to keep the farm an open public amenity and says that he will meet the county's vision for the farm to the best of his ability.
  3. Once a year Mr. W will send the Tilly Foster Advisory Board an update on how things are going. There is no other mention of the Board in the contract so I'm guessing they're out of the picture.
  4. Article III states: The LESSEE [Mr. W] shall not be required to provide the LESSOR [the County] with a monthly monetary amount in exchange for the use of the premises. Rather, LESSEE agrees to the following: (A) To use its best efforts to achieve self-sufficiency at the Tilly Foster Farm operations as an open public farm and museum by December 2011..."
  5. All the equipment at the farm, tractors, watering tanks, sheds, etc., will be there for the sole use of Mr. W and his new enterprise.
  6. While Mr. W says that the public will be allowed on the property from 10AM to 4PM every day, save holidays (which are not listed or defined), the contract also states that he has the right to decide what type of access and when. [Article 8]
  7. The contract states that if a fire should occur Mr. W will take care of the damages but if the damages are too great, and his business enterprise cannot continue, he can cancel the contract with 5 days notice and the county ends up with the mess minus the insurance payout. [Article 9-A]
  8. Article 9-E talks about insurance. In effect, if insurance costs more than $1000 a month the county can, if it wants, shell out for the difference. If not, they can cancel the contract within 20 days.
  9. Article 10 states that the county is "responsible for the payment of utilities, including electricity, fuel, oil, gas and water. In other words, the taxpayers foot the utility bills for whatever goes on there.
  10. Article 11 says, "The LESSOR (which is the County) shall maintain said premises, parking areas and sidewalks in good repair and in tenantable condition, during the continuance of this Lease, except in case of damage arising from the willful misconduct or gross negligence of the LESSEE (which is Mr. W), or as otherwise provided herein." Then, "LESSOR, shall also be responsible for the removal of snow and/or ice and sanding of the parking areas, driveways, exterior stairways and sidewalks appurtenant to the demised premises". In other words, we're footing the bill for that, too.
  11. Article 12 is missing.
  12. Article 13 says that the county must undertake normal maintenance of the buildings and grounds.
  13. Article 14 says that Mr. W will not take out any trees or shrubs unless it's part of "ordinary farming operations" consistent with the Watershed Agricultural Council. For the record, logging is a consistent use.
  14. Mr. W can 'sublet any portion of the premises which [he] deems necessary to [his] ongoing operations..."
  15. The Putnam Arts Council will be moved to Building 6 and pay rent - to Mr. W.
  16. Article 17 says, [The County] agrees that {Mr. W} shall hereafter be entitled to all revenues realized from agreements with the County entered into with the Putnam Arts Council and Community Gardens, provided that such revenue is handled in accordance with "Article III" herein.
  17. Article 19 is the termination clause and it works like this: The LESSOR, upon twelve (12) months notice to LESSEE, may terminate this Agreement in whole or in part when the LESSEE has violated any of the material terms hereof..." And if the county does, we have to reimburse Mr. W for whatever capitol improvements 'cannot be removed' from the premises.
Bearing in mind the disclaimer above, I shall make no further comments and I'll leave that up to the Legal Beagles among us. Still, it's a sweetheart deal for Mr. W if there ever was one. As for the taxpayers, it ain't so good. There are some supporters of this deal, people who are usually vocal about things but have been pretty quiet on this one. I wish they would write in and tell us just why they believe that 'selling the farm' to the lowest bidder is good for the county.

Late yesterday afternoon I had gotten a 'head's up!' on how the Legislature would deal with the CAP issue at the county Legislature's meeting later last evening. There was nothing really new:
CAP stays in their main offices at 121 Main and the storage issue is resolved, for now. There's no word about how and where the County will store its records. In the JN article (see below) about the vote, the paper, as has become its usual, gives you a base, gives you half the result and walks away satisfied that they've done their job.

If you only get your news from the JN you're left with questions that were easily answered, questions such as, what are the terms of the lease? What of Denis Sant's plea for record's storage space? Answering those and others left open from the copy would have given the story depth and detail and yet, one could read the article and say, "What really happened?" It's a fair question.
Over at the Blog, yesterday's article, "To CAP It Off" generated a good number of reads but it's still in second place compared to "PV Officials Sued - Chickens Coming Home to Roost" which maintains the top spot, followed by News That Matters from November 5th. A little further down the list is the poem, "The Goldman Sackers" from Mahopac poet, Pat Byron.
Anyway, business is good there and getting better and we've had more than 1300 visits over the past 6 weeks. Remember, there's more there than here. Log on, sign up and get involved. It's easy, free and sure to be entertaining.

And now, the News:

  1. Supreme Court ponders what's 'best'
  2. Urban Trees Enhance Water Infiltration
  3. Sustainable Garden Roofs Developed As New Construction Material
  4. Bird Population Estimates Are Flawed, New Study Shows
  5. New National Survey Says Public Reveres Bison
  6. Putnam revises sex-offender law, renews pantry's lease
  7. VENEZUELAN OIL: Controversial but free program in 3rd year.
  8. How to Combat a Banking Crisis: First, Round Up the Pessimists
  9. AIG Pulls Fast One -- "Cash Awards" Going To Managers

Supreme Court ponders what's 'best'

By Joan Biskupic, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — How do you select the "best" TV set, or house, or way to winterize a lawn mower? Those and other offbeat scenarios emerged Tuesday as the justices heard an environmental case that revealed how their work often comes down to parsing seemingly simple, but contextually ambiguous, words in a law.

Such as the word "best."

CONSIDERATION: Title IX's relation to civil rights law

At issue: Does a law requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that power plant cooling structures use the "best technology available" to minimize harm to the environment allow the EPA to weigh the costs and benefits of various systems? That is, can the EPA look only at what is "best" for the environment, or may it factor in competing considerations to determine what technology is best?

Environmental groups — led by Riverkeeper and concerned about structures that trap fish and other aquatic life — say the Clean Water Act bars a cost-benefit analysis. A lower U.S. appeals court agreed.

Read More

Urban Trees Enhance Water Infiltration

(Nov. 28, 2008) — Global land use patterns and increasing pressures on water resources demand creative urban stormwater management. Traditional stormwater management focuses on regulating the flow of runoff to waterways, but generally does little to restore the hydrologic cycle disrupted by extensive pavement and compacted urban soils with low permeability. The lack of infiltration opportunities affects groundwater recharge and has negative repercussions on water quality downstream.

Researchers know that urban forests, like rural forest land, can play a pivotal role in stormwater mitigation, but developing approaches that exploit the ability of trees to handle stormwater is difficult in highly built city cores or in urban sprawl where asphalt can be the dominant cover feature.

A group of researchers from Virginia Tech, Cornell, and University of California at Davis have been investigating innovative ways to maximize the potential of trees to address stormwater in a series of studies supported by the U.S. Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Grants Program.

Read More

Sustainable Garden Roofs Developed As New Construction Material

ScienceDaily (Nov. 30, 2008) — A Spanish research study has tested different combinations of supports and indigenous plants to determine which are the best for reducing energy consumption inside buildings. This type of roof is a “rurban”, sustainable architectural solution that will lead to a reduction in environmental and acoustic contamination levels in cities, and be visually pleasing.

Researchers from the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM) have built a roof covered with plants and a watering system that will optimise the consumption of a building’s heating and cooling systems thanks to its insulation. It is a third-generation ecological roof, characterised by its sustainability and the use of indigenous plant species.

“The importance of the roofs”, explained Francisco Javier Neila, Professor at the UPM and co-author of the study, to SINC, “is that each geographical area requires the structures and plant species that work best”. In this case, the researchers divided the roof of an experimental building in Colmenar Viejo (Madrid) into 20 modules, and carried out a test with different supports and regional plants based on three factors: the plant growing at a good speed, the density of the biomass perfectly covering the roof and the result being visually attractive.

Read More

Bird Population Estimates Are Flawed, New Study Shows

ScienceDaily (Nov. 29, 2008) — Most of what we know about bird populations stems from surveys conducted by professional biologists and amateur birdwatchers, but new research from North Carolina State University shows that the data from those surveys may be seriously flawed – and proposes possible means to resolve the problem.

Bird populations are the focus of thousands of environmental research and monitoring programs around the world. A group of researchers led by NC State's Dr. Theodore Simons has been evaluating factors that confound estimates of bird abundance. For example, background noise can influence the ability of observers to detect birds on population surveys, and can result in underestimates of true population size.

In order to explore these questions, Simons and others worked to develop "Bird Radio:" a series of remotely controlled playback devices that can be used to accurately mimic a population of singing birds. Researchers could then control variables, such as background noise, to see whether it affected birdwatchers' ability to estimate bird populations.

Read More

New National Survey Says Public Reveres Bison

ScienceDaily (Nov. 29, 2008) — Americans are woefully out of touch with the fact that the American bison, or buffalo, is in trouble as a wild, iconic species, but they do love them as an important symbol of their country—and as an entrée on the dinner table.

These sentiments were found in a public survey released today by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) at a national conference on restoring bison populations in the North America.

The survey is part of an effort spearheaded by the American Bison Society, which is a program of WCS. Its goal is to achieve ecological restoration in the next 100 years by putting a fire under government agencies, conservation groups, ranchers, and others to do all they can to restore the bison's ecological role as an important species to North America.

The national survey asked 2,000 Americans more than 50 questions about bison to gage public awareness about this iconic species, as conservationists grapple with how to best restore populations to the American West and elsewhere. The survey results were compiled by WCS researchers John Fraser, Kent Redford, Jessica Sickler, and Eva Fearn.

Read More

Putnam revises sex-offender law, renews pantry's lease

Susan Elan
The Journal News

CARMEL - The Putnam Legislature last night approved a revised child-safety-zone law that limits where convicted sex offenders can live and work in the county and does not exempt those already in the community.

The board also unanimously backed a lease that maintains a food pantry and offices of a Brewster-based anti-poverty agency at 121 Main St., despite an appeal by County Clerk Dennis Sant to recoup space in the building for the storage of court and municipal documents.

"This is a wonderful victory for the people of Putnam and a validation that the county Legislature appreciates and understands the services we provide," Rosemarie Bahr, director of the Putnam Community Action Program, said after the vote at the Bureau of Emergency Services in Carmel.

About 50 county residents turned out for the monthly board meeting to show their support for those items.

Read More

VENEZUELAN OIL: Controversial but free program in 3rd year.

By Kyle Hopkins / Anchorage Daily News

With heating oil prices approaching $10 a gallon in rural Alaska and reports of neighbors stealing fuel from neighbors to warm their homes, a Venezuela-owned oil company plans to supply free fuel to villages again this winter.

That's what a Citgo executive who oversees the company's free heating oil program told the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council earlier this month, said council director Steve Osborne.

Citgo has provided roughly 15,000 Alaska village households 100 gallons of heating oil each for the past two winters. If the company donates the same amount this year, some families will save as much as $1,000 on their fuel bills. It's part of a program providing assistance to low-income communities in 23 states.

In the Inupiat village of Noatak, north of Kotzebue, heating oil sells for $9.79 a gallon. Villagers are crossing their fingers for the Citgo assistance while locking their fuel tanks under plywood and padlocks to protect them from thieves, said Eugene Monroe Sr., a local councilman.

"You got to be watching your tank all the time," he said.

Read More

How to Combat a Banking Crisis: First, Round Up the Pessimists

Latvian Agents Detain a Gloomy Economist; 'It Is a Form of Deterrence'

RIGA, Latvia -- Hammered by economic woe, this former Soviet republic recently took a novel step to contain the crisis. Its counterespionage agency busted an economist for being too downbeat.

"All I did was say what everyone knows," says Dmitrijs Smirnovs, a 32-year-old university lecturer detained by Latvia's Security Police. The force is responsible for hunting down spies, terrorists and other threats to this Baltic nation of 2.3 million people and 26 banks.

Now free after two days of questioning, Mr. Smirnovs hasn't been charged. But he is still under investigation for bad-mouthing the stability of Latvia's banks and the national currency, the lat. Investigators suspect him of spreading "untruthful information." They've ordered him not to leave the country and seized his computer.

Read More 

AIG Pulls Fast One -- "Cash Awards" Going To Managers

November 28, 2008 - When you are a pro at a scam--the definition of "scam" also can be found under the term "insurance industry" -- you know how to try to pull a fast one. And AIG is trying to pull one -- under cover of the holidays. Check this out.

You may remember that AIG -- which is afloat only thanks to a bailout by you, the taxpayer, to the tune of $152 billion and counting--made a whole lot of public relations when its top seven executives agreed not to take bonuses this year.

Well, on the eve of Thanksgiving, obviously knowing the markets would be closed on the holiday and obviously knowing that just before the holiday few people would pay attention, AIG actually notified regulators that, well, yes, bonuses would be given out, as Bloomberg News and The Financial Times reports today:

Read More

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