LGS 2013 Government Day
By Lacey Leonardi
“Idea to Reality”
Despite the government being shut down, LGS class of 2013, “The Best of the Best”, went to work to peel away the layers of government to see how it works and how it can better work for us. It was months of planning, and lots of talky talky. Our verbose and brilliant government planning team scrapped flashy plan after flashy plan it seemed. We wanted to give our peers content: hard facts they could use in their own life. Little did we know that we didn’t even need any flash with the day kicking off with news that an LGS child has a good chance to be on American Idol. Enjoy the fantastic singing of John Fentress’s daughter, Niccole, here : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxnxQckNNoY
Todd Pinsky quickly got us down to business after announcements introducing Karyn Burns. Ms. Burns, in her mustard tunic, set the foundation for the day with a look back at basic civics and government structure. Ms. Burns may have had the quote of the day with her joke on Schumer. The class roared when she said, “the most dangerous place in Washington is between Chuck Schumer and a camera.” She also took us down memory lane to help visualize how government is set up to work with an old school house rock video; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TI8xqLl_-w
Then in a low key, but powerful presentation, the class met County Legislator Danny Liedka. We wanted an expert on the consolidation issue and someone who knows how to navigate the layers of local government. Liedka shared his life story of lean times and his motivations in life. He shared how his now funny story of a home improvement project served as the catalyst for him to become Mayor of East Syracuse. He emphasized the need to streamline government to keep businesses like Wal-Mart and bring in Berkshire bank to the village. Liedka polled the class asking how many government agencies we have locally. The answer: 129. He discussed his lengthy plight to consolidate the East Syracuse police department with the Town of DeWitt police department. His quote of the day was probably his approach on consolidation and government that he is not a “broad brush guy.” As well as being a husband, dad, and County Legislator, you can catch Liedka on Time Warner Cable Sports as a color commentator: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0VVwD7OgdE
Hearts were touched and the class was inspired when Janice Geddes spoke to our group. She laid out her tragic story of her daughter’s murder and how that spurred her into writing now 14 pieces of legislation after never before having any affiliation with government. She discussed at length the games that politicians play, and how this can delay and even stop the most beneficial laws. She emphasized to the class that grass roots efforts can make a difference. Letters, phone calls, emails, social media can all help you get the attention of government. She also shared how the media can help greatly when you need government to act. Her current legislation is to table paroles for 60 months. Here is the link to Ms. Geddes’s most recent bill: http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&bn=A02774&Summary=Y&Actions=Y&Text=Y&Votes=Y This link she briefly discusses how Senator DeFrancisco helped her: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Q_qbUNNkuQ
After lunch, not a drowsy eye in the house with Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and J. Ryan McMahon, II Chairman of the Onondaga County legislature. We opened with the Mayor’s inspirational and sometimes humorous open to her State of the City 2013. You can watch that again by clicking this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRuEeef6Gkk There were diverse questions asked and surprising answers at times. All seemed very candid and honest. The Mayor emphasized that we are moving toward cluster living more than being spread out to be successful. She also feels that foundation of government is broken. Local levels are doing better than Federal. The country has structural issues that the federal & state government has to address. I.E.: Scranton reduced all city employees to minimum wage and Harrisburg is out of money. The Mayor expects to solve Syracuse’s financial woes, but feels the state needs to do their part as well.
McMahon feels he has a good perspective of City finances and County finances. He says our local story is easing as a community. The county’s unfunded mandates issues are the same as the city. State requirements are causing a hardship. i.e.: Property tax revenues are $141 million and the Medicare bill is $191 million. These are financial stresses on the City not caused by the City. This will result in more FORCED consolidations instead of planned consolidations. McMahon feels that planned consolidation services are working. The Mayor says it is too early to tell. The most passionate and specific conversations were started by class members Katie Rech and Charles about fire and crime. Both are emotional topics to all tax payers. Katie shared how her relative’s home burned to the ground because different fire departments were at odds with one another in the county. The point was made that the term “Volunteer” Fire Department is a misnomer when they have large budgets just like other government agencies. Charles discussed how his wife now doesn’t feel safe on their street due to a number of incidents in the area. The Mayor says it is a Nottingham area issue and that crime is not mobile. She says 4 – 5 juveniles were arrested for those incidents. She also said crime is up all over the county and youth crime is defiantly up. To really prevent these issues, Say Yes, and organizations like On-point for College need to succeed so kids choose a different path. Both speakers encourage everyone to make a call, send an email. Politicians do not hear enough from the public. The Mayor says County Legislators probably receive 5 emails a month.
After the excitement of the Mayor and Ryan McMahon, we were kept alert with a friendly debate on legislation for and against fracking in New York State. “What the Frack”, discussions were kicked off by an enthusiastic Scott Armstrong who is a friend of the spoken word! Countering Armstrong’s argument was Katherine Nadeau, Policy Director for Environmental Advocates of NY.
Armstrong works for “Friend’s of Natural Gas.” He does crisis management, lobbying and says he spends plenty of time in the streets with protestors as well as with politicians. Armstrong says 30 states are fracking now. Friends of fracking are drillers are usually businesses and farmers. Anti fracking are usually membership groups that are pre-disposed to environmental issues.
Ms. Nadeau gave our class a Fracking 101. She says the deficiencies’ in NY’s fracking plan include: No health assessment. She encourages people to look at the impacts: well pad by well pad. Does not prohibit wastes on roads. Does not respect local zoning. Does not keep wastes out of sewage plants. Her group feels the DEC has been decimated and there are not enough people to oversee fracking in NYS.
Armstrong’s rebuttal included saying that fracking would provide $1 billion in potential revenue. Companies would take care of the road issues themselves faster and better than the government does. We are looking at one year or more before drilling will begin in NYS. Saying NYS is experiencing “Paralysis by Analysis”. http://www.armcomm.net/news.aspx
To wrap the day and stimulate involvement in government we invited guest speakers: Thomas Dadey, Jr., Chairman, Onondaga County Republican Party and Mark J. English, Chairman, Onondaga County Democratic Party to tell us how they select candidates, what is needed in local government and what is involved in winning a race. Both men were candid and exchanged competitive jabs at the other. Both said the same things though when you boil down the basic needs and how to on getting involved. Call a local office and volunteer. If you want to run, start with your friends and your support group. Have money on hand for a campaign. The reason more people are not involved is the fear of public scrutiny and people fear public speaking more than death.
The overall message for today was get involved. Make a phone call.