Sunday, December 30, 2007

The 2008 Organizational Meeting

The picture here is from the official opening day of the Dryden Town Hall (Thursday, October 18th, 2007, 5pm). The opening day open house was followed by a Planning Board meeting with a presentation on the route 366/route 13 corridor study.

On Wednesday, January 2nd, at 7pm the 2008 Dryden Town Board organizational meeting will kick off the year in Dryden Town business. Most of the meeting is based on a boiler plate of appointments and authorizations (last year 28 resolutions ranging from approval of budget modifications and rules of procedure to setting the town board meeting schedule). My write up about last years meeting:

I believe committee assignments will be made - which will hopefully divide the work up between the board members, staff, and community. Also, we'll be discussing and perhaps appointing a replacement for Mary Ann Sumner's third year of her four year term (that board member would then have to run in November for the final year of the term).

If you are free, come to the Town Hall at 7pm and see what we do.

Nominating Procedures

In Dryden candidates for local office are nominated either by Primary Election (Republicans) or Party Caucus (Democrats). To be nominated by Primary Election, a candidate's supporters collect signatures on a designating petition. If more than one candidate submits a petition with sufficient signatures each candidate's name appears on the ballot in a Primary Election in which registered party members vote using the traditional lever voting machines at the same public polling places used in general elections. Party support for petitioning and campaigning for the primary is definitely helpful but not essential.

To be nominated by Party Caucus, candidates or their supporters attend a meeting of registered members of the party. The date and place of the meeting vary from year to year. Candidates and their supporters may speak. There may be questions and answers. There may be debate. Eventually a vote is taken and the winner is nominated. The Caucuses I've attended have been fairly straightforward. The party has done a good job of recruiting and the candidates have widespread support. But there are some good local stories about years when more than one candidate for a position showed up with enough supporters to create quite a controversy and a truly "democratic" face-to-face, group process.

With all this in mind, it's been interesting to watch the Iowa Caucus process. Both parties have caucuses. The Republican caucus involves meeting and writing the name of the candidate you support on a piece of paper. The papers are collected, counted on the spot and results announced. The Democratic process has the added twist of eliminating any candidate who gets less than 15% of the first vote and calling for a second vote. People who voted for a candidate who was eliminated may vote for one of the remaining candidates. (see blog banner: "disorderly, give-and-take" vs "businesslike, cut-and-dried")

What I like about the Caucus process is that it's face to face, not in a voting booth behind a curtain. What I like about the Democratic Caucus process is the opportunity for face-to-face debate. On the other hand, although the caucus is open to all registered party members, it tends to attract people who are active party committee members. It's a little tougher to get involved than seeing the primary election notice and going to the familiar polling place. I hope in the coming year, we can reach out and encourage more Dryden Democrats to participate in our "rowdy, imaginative" process. I hope we can meet more often, not with agendas but with ideas and enthusiasm (and maybe a beer or glass of cider).

All that said, I'd like to resume the Wednesday Salons at my house. It's not a "special event." None of us seems to have the time or energy for that. But I'm at home the last Wednesday of the month and around 5:00 I'll be opening a decent bottle of wine whether or not anyone else is here. There's always a chance I'll be taking something interesting out of the oven - bread or cookies or such. And I'll welcome the company of any Democrat who'd like to chat. Call or email me if you know you'd like to come. But if you're not sure 'til the last minute, come anyway.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Dryden Peak Oil Planning

Last week David Makar and Marty Hatch and I met with some people from TC Local, the Tompkins County Relocalization Project. I'm always happy to find people planning more than a week or a year in advance. Some changes take a long time and it's best to start planning a generation or two ahead of the perceived need.

"Peak Oil" is the point in time when oil production reaches it's highest point. As oil reserves become more and more difficult to access, oil production will decline. If consumption does not decline prior to peak production, demand will force oil prices up. I don't see how anyone can deny those two facts, tho' I predict that some people will try.

The questions worth asking are "When?" and "What will happen?" Not to mention "What shall we do about it?" [I'm offering these Wikipedia links, not because they're the best, but because they're relatively objective and easy to understand.]

They're tough questions because, like climate change, information needed to convey the seriousness of the situation sounds alarmist. Let's start from the point where we accept that the problem is serious. The Hirsch Report, published by the US Department of Energy in 2005, which might be considered a moderate document, begins, "The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem." And concludes:
  • World oil peaking is going to happen.
  • Oil peaking will adversely affect the U. S. economy. The decade after the onset of world
    oil peaking may resemble the period after the 1973-74 oil embargo, and the economic loss to the United States could be measured on a trillion-dollar scale.
  • Oil peaking presents a unique challenge (“it will be abrupt and revolutionary.”)
  • The problem is liquid fuels (growth in demand mainly from transportation sector).
  • Mitigation efforts will require substantial time (ideally 20 years. )
  • 20 years is required to transition without substantial impacts.
  • Both supply and demand will require attention.
  • It is a matter of risk management (mitigating action must come before the peak).
  • Government intervention will be required.
  • Economic upheaval is not inevitable (“given enough lead-time, the problems are soluble with existing technologies.”)
  • More information is needed to more precisely determine the peak timeframe.

Nearly half of U.S. petroleum consumption is for transportation and transportation is the one sector for which there is no ready alternative energy. So, it makes sense to focus on a plan for relocalizing the production and distribution of essential goods and services in Tompkins County to ease the impact of increasingly costly transportation. It will make sense in the near future to focus on these points in planning for modest growth in Dryden.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Schumer and Mukasey

Tompkins County Democratic Committee Chair, Irene Stein, received the following response from Senator Schumer regarding his support of Judge Mukasey. Yes, it's long. But every effort I make to abbreviate it dilutes the meaning.

As you may know, I voted in favor of Judge Mukasey's nomination. I did so for one critical reason: the Department of Justice is a shambles and is in desperate need of a strong leader committed to depoliticizing the agency's operations.

The department has been devastated under the Bush administration. Outstanding United States attorneys have been dismissed without cause; career civil-rights lawyers have been driven out in droves; people appear to have been prosecuted for political reasons; young lawyers have been rejected because they were not conservative ideologues; and politics have been allowed to infect decision-making.

We now have the potential to improve this critical department. There is virtually universal agreement, even from those who opposed Judge Mukasey, that he would do a good job in turning the department around. Indeed, my colleagues who opposed his confirmation have gone out of their way to praise his character and qualifications. More importantly, Judge Mukasey has demonstrated his fidelity to the rule of law, saying that if he believed the president were violating the law he would resign.

My colleagues and I, and many others, spent a great deal of time and effort to expose the failings of Alberto Gonzales. I did not want to see those failures continued by the installation of a caretaker, acting Attorney General who would do the bidding of Vice President Cheney and his Chief of Staff David Addington instead of working to get the Justice Department back on track.

I understand and respect those who believe that Judge Mukasey's view on waterboarding should trump all other considerations. Like you, I believe that the cruel and inhumane technique of waterboarding is not only repugnant, but also illegal under current laws and conventions. I too found Judge Mukasey's refusal to classify waterboarding as a form of torture unsatisfactory. Therefore, I hope Congress will soon pass S.1943, a bill I am cosponsoring to explicitly ban the use of waterboarding and other abusive interrogation techniques. Judge Mukasey not only made clear to me that the president would have no legal authority to ignore such legislation, but also pledged to enforce such a law. Some say such a law is unnecessary because waterboarding is already illegal a view with which I fully agree. However, there appears to be enough dissension and confusion in the legal community, and within the White House, that a new law, which makes the illegality of waterboarding crystal clear, can only help.

Further, even if we don't pass a new anti-waterboarding law, on the issue of torture we would be better off with Judge Mukasey than with a caretaker. The Judge has stated that he would abide by a court or Office of Legal Counsel ruling against the practice. We could certainly not expect the same from a caretaker appointee who would be more likely to embrace the theory of the unitary executive.

Had we rejected Judge Mukasey, President Bush made clear his intention to install an acting, caretaker attorney general who could serve for the rest of his term without the advice and consent of the Senate. To accept such an unaccountable attorney general, I believe, would be to surrender the department to the Administrations extreme ideology and abandon the hope of instituting the many reforms called for by our investigation. I believe the rejection of Judge Mukasey would have been a symbolic victory in the short term, but it would have ultimately delayed reform at the Justice Department and, in all likelihood, caused more problems in the long run.

Indeed, it is my hope Judge Mukasey's first weeks as attorney general are an indicator of his service to come. Days after he took office, the Justice Department reopened an internal investigation into the administration's warrantless surveillance program, which had stalled for over a year under his predecessor. More recently, the recall of the controversial U.S. attorney for Minnesota, whose radical views and poor management were symbolic of how far the Justice Department had fallen, is a tremendous step towards dismantling the legacy of Attorney General Gonzales. While there is certainly more to do, it is my hope that Judge Mukasey will do what it takes to remove the stench of politics from the Justice Department.

I like Senator Schumer and I actually support his decision. But there's just so much wrong with the whole situation. Mukasey's acceptance of waterboarding is absolutely wrong. And Bush's threat to appoint an acting Attorney General without Senate approval is wrong. And acquiescing to Bush's bullying is, well, not really right.

I just heard a Mormon on Washington Journal saying that Mormons believe in doing what's right "no matter what." I've been searching all my life for "what's right." Despite my craving for absolutes, I keep finding that "A" is absolutely right... unless it conflicts with "B" which is not only absolutely right, but also more important.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

More Budget Info

KAZ made it all the way through the last post about the budget and as a reward I'll answer her question. She makes the valid point that spending increases are sometimes concealed by increases in total assessment. So the number most important to her is the % increase or decrease in total spending. And it is - ta da - 7.9%. Let's just say 8%.

First, let me reiterate that this increase in spending is covered by new construction in Dryden and by our savings, or fund balance. Let me add, that the spending increase is primarily due to cost of living salary increases and "one-time" expenses. That is to say, the "one-times" will not affect next year's budget so it won't be a permanent increase.

For reasons that have to do with municipal law, the budget is divided into:

  1. Special Districts (Fire, Ambulance, Water, Sewer and Lighting) - up 2.4%
  2. Highway Department - down 3.3%
  3. Everything Else (Actually called "General" but EE seems more descriptive) - up 23%

Now you have even more questions, don't you? "Everything Else up 23%?!" Yes. Well. Everything Else includes Public Works. The Public Works Superintendent is also Highway Superintendent. This year he plans to build a salt storage building which we've needed for a long time. (Don't get me started on storing salt in the open adjacent to a wetland...) It's budgeted at $450,000 in the Everything Else, Public Works line. But, the Public Works Superintendent (who is appointed by the Town Board) puts on his Highway Superintendent hat (in which he's a elected official) and asks himself, "Where can I save some money in order to be able to afford this building without affecting the tax rate?" And he finds that he can postpone replacement of some equipment in the Highway Department budget. So, the Highway Department Budget goes down and the Everything Else budget goes up.

I'm actually oversimplifying. But that's the idea. And I'm using the salt storage building as an example because it's the largest single change, so it makes the explanation more dramatic.

More tomorrow or the next day about Special Districts.

By the way, you can see the entire budget at 2008 Budget (pdf).