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Warren Gross's blog

Change is Invetable

October 25, 2011 - 13:42

Yesterday Barack Obama announced another initiative that is doomed to fail. He is resurrecting the old forms of economical growth, investing in foreclosure situation which will encourage people who cannot afford to make payments on mortagages which, in many cases, they could not afford in the first place. So, the government will invest in another inappropriate initiative, financial instiutions will package these into non-asset, income generating deritatives, and next, they will bet against their initiatives and make more money. C

It never ends..... by now it should be clear that old forms of managing an economy in a age being drowned by the effects of a global economy, and further downsized by new forms of technology, such as robotics, is a disastrous remedy for any economy.

It was simpler when wars destroyed millions, manufacturing was pre-technology largely and needed manpower, war economies created jobs and people came together to invest, save and work as one.

Retrofit Revisited

October 20, 2011 - 14:43
5 comments

Recently I posted a blog challenging all TOTS readers, especially the regular contributor, to get behind the issues facing Retrofit regarding what appears to be differential treatment and unanswered support from BID. You can pull it up from the archives.

I wanted to see how many readers or bloggers would get behind an issue which has all the ingredients of being in the mainstream of the issue base of posters. We have a local guy, with a large segment of members from the community, an organization which apparently is being treated differently from major corporations external to New Rochelle such as CVS and Planet Fitness. In fact, the manager is a poster as I understand it, on TOTS.

I wanted to see if criticism of the Administration, with or without merit, would extend to postive assertive action in favor of some organization who contributes to our tax base, who supports a number of small businesses in the vicinity of the health club.

Here is a Chance to Do Something Positive

October 17, 2011 - 13:53
6 comments

I just returned from Retrofit and talked to Mario the manager. I have been a member of Retrofit since it opened and I am one of close to 4,000 members, many of them from New Rochelle. Retrofit is a local gym, with state of the art equipment, excellent leadership and attractive rates. It is also suffering from what appears to be a lack of love and support from the City and this is not the first time a New Rochelle business downtown, owned, operated or patronized by New Rochelle residents has suffered from excessive red tape, seemingly unequal treatment, lack of direct assistance, and hands-on support. I remember the Speckled Door on Main Street, owned by a couple of second, perhaps third generation New Rochellans that experienced almost daily visits from Administration members on signage, licensing, other matters which demonstrate a sheer lack of common sense and civic support. Of course, I only can go on the language from the owners and "street reports", but I have no reason to doubt it. I have seen other examples of excessive ticketing of coffee shops, pizza parlors etc. when clientele stopped in for minutes to get a take out product. Pretty soon, no business.

Take the Point -- Politics Not as Usual

September 28, 2011 - 23:18
2 comments

TAKE THE POINT

One thing about Talk of the Sound is that it is open and will accept, if not support, views and opinions differing from those held by the Editor and the preponderance of its readers. I learned this fairly recently and, at the same time, saw that many of its correspondents, whether names such as Anthony Galleta and John D, or unnamed such as Fifth Avenue Guy, are bright, articulate, and love this City as much as I do.

I have just read a posting from Adam who seems to be active in advocating for Lyse Spertus as well as a lengthy article in the Journal News regarding candidate for Mayor Richard St Paul. I have no comment on St Paul in terms of his qualifications and alleged issues. It is simply sad, but, that said, there is a lot to say about the election process taking place locally in 2011 and nationally in 2012.

In one of my previous, typically long-winded blogs, I mentioned my disillusionment with politics in general and said that I wanted to bring a few points to the readers of what has been taken place in New Rochelle for quite a while and I still am befuddled at why these; explicitly the failure to mirror the City Code in terms of the roles, relationships, and responsibilities of the "Ceremonial Mayor", City Council, and City Manager. I am also going bananas at the failure of the "Ceremonial" Mayor, the City Council, and City Manager to do substantive acts and apply leverage to address the two major components of why our property taxes are so high: (1) lack of proper management over a rapidly deteriorating school district and (2) precise, meaningful planniing in the short and intermediate run, to build a commercial downtown base, provide protection and city services by moving a police facility as well as other 515 North Avenue departments to show the City's support and serve as a beacon to potential investors; be they new residents or commercial small businesses that New Rochelle is vibrant, fixing its many issues on schools, and the business community, and moving forward on today's issues, not tommorows potential opportunities.

I am not going to waste your time by closely paralleling the national and local scene in any great degree. Sufficient to say that Barack Obama is a skilled campaigner and a weak president who is selfishly reverting to campaign mode at the expense of hundreds of thousands of jobless folks, poverty level citizens and more. He is "sound and fury signifying nothing" no, rather more a victim of what the ancient Greeks would call, "hubris", the need for pride and self affiliation over the general welfare of the people he is pledged to serve. Yet, the opposition is as reckless as are the members of the current party in power and... well here we are.

The application of the skilled work done by Simpson-Bowles would have been the remedy, but it would come at a political cost that neither party is willing to pay. New Rochelle is no where never as neglectful of the public weal and welfare regardless of critics to the contrary. My sense is that is equally a political animal with smaller fangs and duller claws. We need to make some meaningul fixes, but one of them is not voting out Noam Bramson from office. I support him and I would disagree with Adam to the degree that he appears to infer that if the supporting cast were changed, things would be different. I think there are some members of that supporting cast who serve nobly and passionately for the people; there is Louis Trangucci and there is Jared Rice. And, although I do not know her, I am impressed with the words of Lyse Spertus and think she would be a fine representative of her District and a skilled City servant.

So, what is my problem aside from the aforementioned failure to even give lip service to the two most important areas facing the growth and development of New Rochelle. It is one of long standing and has suffered from the same degree of neglect; primarily political rationalization and patent omission. Other issues that dominate this blog and this is not a criticism in the least are errors of commission meaning that more skill and control and monitoring for example, could bring these under more effective management. These include using the Abatement incentive for growth, the IDA process, the application of MOUs, the BID situation and others. Each requires revisiting and rethinking but they serve important developmental purposes. For example, Abatements are as common as bonuses in individual performance evaluation; the point is that the people deciding on its use must be skilled in developing terms and conditions, contractual protections, control and monitoring and much more. So, to paraphrase, it is "not the singer, but the song."

I spent a good deal of time reading the three set City Code and you can too if you visit the library. I wanted to concentrate on the roles, relationships and responsibilities of the mayor, city council,a nd city manager. Let me make a few points up front.

1. the City has been operating pretty much as currently written under the same roles, relationships and responsibilities for the major governance team for years.

2. Noam Bramson, and others before him, is not a "ceremonial" mayor. He operates pretty much the same as a "strong mayor does.

3. The City Council actually has oversight and policy responsibility over the City Manager who, in truth, serves at the will of this body. They are, in effect, a Board of Directors with similar powers, and the Mayor, is actually the Board President under this arrangement.

4. The City Manager supervises the entire administration team and no member of the City Council and ostenbly the Mayor, can direct any member of the administration team to perform in any way shape or form. It must go through the City Manager.

5. You can verify or dispute what I have said by referring to the City Code, specifically (a) Article III, Sections 10, ad 13 as well as Article Vi of the City Code.

Why am I bringing this up? Because the basis of good government is understanding what its rules and laws are as the exercise of our great democracy requires adherence to the Constitution and laws therein and thereafter.

I would be more than shocked to learn that the individual members of the Council were not aware of its provisions and prescription or proscriptions. So, there is only one explanation that necessarily and sufficiently explains why Noam behaves like a strong mayor, the City Council neglects to employ its powers of subpoena and testimony, and the City Manager can "take sides" and display animosity to some of the members of the Council. It can be either, (1) I have misread the Code, (2) the Code is simply window dressing to maintain a political majority vs.minority set-up, (3) the current form of governance expects too much time and effort from non-administration members sitting on the Council to exercise their power and actively represent their districts and the City as a whole. It is, in fact, a part-time job which doesnt' pay near enough for full time service.

All this explains to me why the City did not immediately use its powers to investigate Fevang. When Louis Trangucci came to the point of forcing a turnaround he behaved heriocally, served the City but violated the City Code as well as not being part of a 7 person effort to immediately investigate, call witnesses, and make some fixes before the DA, impounded the evidentary material and took over the case.

So, we have the typical disease affecting the nation... partisan politics, failure to perform in some unified fashion and so, neglect of stewardship and in truth "there is no Bramson Administration but rather some agreed upon arrangement that the City continue to do business in ways it has done in the past. Occasionaly we get a burp on a "strong mayor" resolution placed on a ballot, but why? Is it to justify changing the City Code? Why not simply operate under the aegis of the Code? And, why can't the citizen get a presentation of facts on the Code from the City Attorney so we all can act in a more grown-up, thoughtful way.

So why do I unhesitatingly endorse Noam Bramson for mayor? I have never received anything from him as a payment in any kind for my support and don't expect it. My reasons are simple: he is easily the brightest guy in the room, has an enormous capacity for bring disparate facts into some cohestiveness, loves the City, is a solid citizen of the Community, and frankly, as Pilate said once, "I find no fault with this man." I have shared everything that I have said to you above in the past with Noam and I think he will begin to see the need for proactivity with the School District and the need to migrate key services to the downtown area. He should not, repeat not, abandon Sustainability, Long Range Planning or even Echo Bay. These have long term value to all of us albeit the latter needs to be re-envisioned and re-tooled. He needs to advocate for a return and restoration of the Armory to celebrate our veterans, of which I am a proud ex Army NCO, as well as building a parallel community based facility for The East End.

Of course there is much more, but let me say why I feel strongly about Louis and Jared. Louis is one of the most courageous, fair, and moral people I have met in politics. He has strong views; many of which I question, but never his advocacy for New Rochelle or his willingness to work with all people all of the time. Jared is a great addition to the process, bright, articulate, caring and full of ideas. His work with Community based organizations is exactly what is needed. As for Ms. Sperber, she appears to have the qualities you look for in a representative and a human being. I will gladly trust my intuition as well as Adam on this one.

Let me close by mentioning once again the Talk of the Sound. It is read by most citizens of this citizens. I will take many shots across the bow on this blog. It doesn't matter. It is time for people who don't step up to step down.

So

Politics or Patriotism -- Pick One

September 21, 2011 - 16:01

It seems more and more likely that politics and patriotism have become separated at both body and soul. This is not unique to any one party or level of governance. Today, for example, the President is speaking at the United Nations and, politically, is undoing what appeared to be his operating moral imperative of working to bring the parties in the Israeli-Palestinian situation together by means of a negotiated solution, he has "discovered" that many of the GOP leaders have developed a crush on supporting Israel to the extent of denying foreign aid to the Palestinians.

This follows concerted action and actual military support of insurgents in Arab nations such as Egypt, Libya, and Syria to overthrown established governments in favor of who knows what. It even meant deserting a friendly leader, Mubarak of Egypt.

This discontinuity of moral fiber has undermined our national security, further corroded our financial picture, and put American military and civilians at considerable risk. Why? can you say politics? Let it roll off the tongue... politics.

A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand

September 02, 2011 - 16:06
1 comments

What has happened to the America I grew up in and thought I knew. We went to Church or Synagogue, pledged allegiance to our flag, were watched closely by the entire neighborhood for any signs of disrepair or disrespect, served our nation, and sacrificed and saved for the greater good. Yes, there were plenty of social and economic concerns to keep us occupied, but it appeared to me at least that elected officials cared, were wise and kept the greater good always foremost in their thoughts and actions.

No more! Politics has lost all of its root meanings from the ancient Greeks; it is now a composite of people who put self before service, ideology before the greater good, and the office holders seem more interested in re-election than reflection and collecting contributions over contributing.

Is this harsh? No, actually I think it is rather mild. Perhaps we have too many lawyers in office rather than people who literally left their businesses, secured their farms, and marched off to the State, City or Nation's capitals to do the people's business. Where is Mr. Deeds now that we need him?

How Open Is the Open Meeting Law

August 23, 2011 - 22:55

A recent artcle in the Westchester Guardian featured Bob Freeman from New York State Committee on Open Government presenting information on the Open Meeting Law. Mention was made of pending legislation sponsored by Assembly woamn Paulin (A00081) which would fruther strengthen a citizen's right to obtain important information on requiring the State to make record documentation from meetings and other sources available to the public. Unfortunately two lamentable facts came into play (1) the Open Meeting law is not enforced by the State and relies on the "good will" and due diligence of municipal bodies to comply with the law A dissatisfied litigant would have to arrange to secure legal assistance to bring the matter in question up to the Supreme Court and likely, be obligated to pay significant legal expenses. In addition, A00081 was returned for a signifcant rewrite and a considerably weaker bill, A72B, was finally agreed to by the Senate and Assembly and signed by the Governor. This seems to follow the trail of other NYS laws, specifically the Businss Corporate Law which, for the most part, also require litigants to obtain private counsel to advance their course. It is both distateful and depressing to see bills that actively inform, involve, and energize the NYS electorate be treated with such a negative mind-set and it should present the need for sites like TOTS who work hard to fill in the gaps caused by a lack of high level support.

Is Now the Time for New Rochelle to Embrace Property Reassessment?

May 02, 2010 - 12:47
12 comments

17E2F1B8-A79D-49DC-BDB2-79162B97F322.jpgEach year we can be assured of two things happening relative to property taxes. The School District will have to work through a long list of Certiorari awards and make budget provisions accordingly and, in doing so, seek out ways to lighten this burden. One or more of these ways may be seen by some as being questionable – for example, the recent brouhaha concerning hiring additional counsel to advise the School Board on certain Certiorari claims.

However, there is another certainty and that would be an yearly Op Ed or Letter to the Editor from former Mayor Alfred Del Vecchio of White Plains who, simply put, strongly opposes any effort to reassess property values throughout Westchester and most likely, in any of its municipalities.

I never paid enough attention to the overall issues or examined in detail his opposition to reassessment. As a former board president of a cooperative, I simply conducted an a search for revenue increases every few years and routinely filed for Certiorari. It always worked out positively and I let it go at that.

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Latest posts from Warren Gross

Research Precedes Development

Simply said, I am toxic, and a mere glance at the newspapers, blogs, or lending an ear to the cable news indicates I suffer from a malady shared by most of world. It is rampant, a disease of the soul and spirit and it must stop NOW! Rationalizations about "critique", will of the Founding Fathers, ideology is no longer helpful. the patient is sick, very very sick and we have not diagnosed the cause of this illness.

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Who I Think I Am and Why

The other day there was a post announcing a $500,000 matching grant for Facade Improvement. I expressed my point of view which, if you read my posts, essentially points out that this was not exactly great news for the City and why. Perhaps the rather solemn faces of the people on hand indicates some shared values and so I posted and with the lingering question of why a college head is the BID head (yes I know $$$$$) I put it out of my mind.

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All Circuses Have Clowns

The School Board continues to grope and fumble around some fundamental questions on Employment criteria, union & management relations, and community transparency. However they do seem to be actively engaged and, hopefully, that will lead to growing insight, skill, and application that will benefit the citizen in the not too far distant future.

They might start affirmatively with dismissing the Superntendent. This is long overdue and surely there must be some sense of the need for this on the part of some school board members who are most likely those elected most recently. Were this done, a dark cloud would begin heading southeast and arrive somewhere in Suffolk County; a more amenable location for this controlling, unaware and stultifying force who has damaged our district and actually our non-eductional growth and development prospects and possibly done so mortally.

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Full Time Versus Part-Time Mayor

Bob Cox resurrects his early 2009 blog on Full-Time vs. Part Time Mayor and much more therein. The posting to this particular are closed, but Bob has put back on the table a critical issue and I am opportunistically albeit briefly (for me), going to bring it back to a perspective that interests me.

I have frequently mentioned on TOTS and elsewhere that the duties and responsibilities of the mayor of New Rochelle, as indicated in the City Code, Article X to be precise, are certainly not followed as indicated.

There cannot be any dispute on this point; the only question is why is this the case. My position is and continues to be conform to the code or change it.

I cannot imagine that the language contained in any resolution for "strong mayor" would differ from the exercise of the duties performed by Noam at this point. If anyone has kept a copy of the language of the last referendum, please post it.

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Does the City Code Actually Mean What it Says?

Barack Obama has recently been described by a well-known pundit as being an exceptional Commander in Chief when it pertains to covert operations and much less so regarding overt or conventional operations. He went on to say that Obama doesn't play particularly well with others and is much more comfortable under conditions where he can deliberate and make decisions behind close doors. I think this is right; his successes regarding the assassination of Bin Laden, drone strikes in Pakistan, and Libya point to this.

Bob Marrone made a point about Noam Bramson in the latest issue of the Sound Report extolling Noam's extraordinary intellectual gifts and indicating that he, too, seems more comfortable in situations where he does not have to demonstrate gregarious behavior; in short, preferring to be more introverted than extroverted. I think he is right as well and explains a feeling I have expressed that Noam has unlimited potential but seems to lack some important command components that would elevate this potential into outstanding performance.

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Challenging the 2% Cap Is a Bad Idea

The blog is on fire regarding the likely challenge to the New York State 2% cap. It is always worthwhile for people who visit the blog to get these perspectives. While the evidence is circumstantial at best at this time, it is likely that the city council will be presented with an override resolution at the earliest opportunity.

It is estimated that between 15 to 20 percent of NYS communitiies will attempt to override the State Cap. It is not clear whether these will be primarily democratic or republican controlled decision making entities. It doesn't matter; the idea of considering an override puts the community interests and, actually needs, behind those of the politicians running the city. It is that simple. Westchester is the most taxed and close to the most expensive city to live in the entire United States. We have seen a radical change in key demographics in New Rochelle; lots of migration, negative consequences on the school district performance, a rapidly deteriorating business district.... these can be measured. What cannot be easily seen is the deflation of the community ethos, spirit, and appetite to work together as one city. The anger of the south is matched by the apathy of the north.

Andrew Cuomo is not a very forgiving man. I don't think he will take to having a democratic majority community overriding his plan. If you are a NYS Assembly member or senator, I would be more than a little uncomfortable. So, along with Republican colleagues in the County, I would hope, sincerely hope, that each of them join the better angels and try to instill some common sense into an administration that is losing its grip on how to deal with a serious short term situation, how to safely shelve intermediate and longer term plans, and devote all their energies to promoting the common good which is, clearly, improving the tax situation for the population of the city while also finding ways to behave as one community; one point of focus for investors to say, the school district is first rate, the business district safe and healthy, and the tax situation is under control. We cannot say this now without crossing our fingers behind our backs.

Challenging the tax is a prima facie statement that we have not done near enough to manage the realities of an overall economic bust in the context of a city's need to sustain itself from excessive damage. We put forth the wrong sorts of things from a situational management point of view. Echo Bay, Davids Island, the continuation of the Monroe sprawl downtown, the proliferation of non-profits and other non-attractive initiatives in our critical downtown area, do nothing to attract the eye of investors. As bad, there is no evidence of the City's faith or even responsibility in preserving, protecting and supporting business center growth. How simple it would be to do that.... move some city departments down here to inspirit residents, put in a police presence as a structural reality, change the zoning code, look at the idea of addressing lease renewals with landlords in a positive way as one candidate for council has already suggested.

There is much, much more but why take up more space. We have done so little or done what we have done so incompletely, so non-related to proper urban planning, and most critically in a vacuum from input from citizens and neighborhoods. I am not going into the abatement argument. I know they are standard operating procedure for growth, but I also know that there are ways to use them as proper incentives, to present the city as a desirable end state for the developer rather than being dependent. This affects the terms and conditions both in the original contract and in subsequent renewals as needed.

Look at the override situation from the context of how you budget in households, how you interract with family and neighbors. Are you happy with the comparison?

Are any of you out there business men or women? Is your organization in the stock market? if so, what is the raison d'etre of your business? Isn't it mostly to provide shareholder value? SAME, the absolute same is true of city management. You simply substtute taxpayer value for shareholder value. This administration has a responsibility to reduce the taxing burden on its taxpayers. It cannot add a further burden during these difficult times by ignoring the simple facts that you do not, repeat do not, increase the burdens which are so huge that they are literally unrivaled in the nation, by not exhausting all other possibilities.

Sharpen your pencils as the school district must do this spring. It has to be done. All sacred cows must be examined. From the City's viewpoint I take you back to the City Code. and say that our mayor is seen as a ceremonial mayor and his duties are clear enough. Yet in fact, he is a strong mayor evidenced by salary, war chests of donations, power and influence. So, this said, do we need a City Manager at such a high salary level. Perhaps we don't or, perhaps the responsibiliites of council and mayor and city manager should conform to the Code and this has very real financial implications as well as clarity in terms of community and neighborhood relationships.

I am also drawing the parallel to how a strong ethical and sensible business leader would address this issue. He would be product and service driven.So the leading edge in school districts would be to do no harm to front line educators; teachers for example, In the City, do no harm to their equivalents; the fire, police, sanitation. People we need for safety, health and security. Cut administration positions. Lower salaries. Bargain more effectively at renewal time. Get rid of redundancy. Put consultants out to pasture. Initiate a study on critical postions, rank, and readjust. Let go of anymore attached to future state issues or projects.... sustainability, echo bay, etc.. or put them on ice or on some reduced scheduling basis. Yes they are important, but not in current state. And, do something with IDA, BID, etc..... more value for the dollar, no tax increase, no ignoring todays needs, no violence to first providers and sanitation, leave main street yards alone, get back and use armory, and get yourselves downtown to reconnect with some very good and needy people.

I realize this is not easy. I understand the emotional impact of constant criticism from some quarters. Yet, it comes with the territory. I also recognize the need to control, be it narcissistic or not, it is very seductive. Yet, it is a path for failure.

Any prospective council member, new or sitting now, who rationalizes the need to override the cap is guilty of acting against the interests of their constituents and the overall community without getting the support of the community. You do not have it simply by being elected. That is an exercise in rationalization. You are not presenting this as a campaign issue. And, so you should not be held harmless.

I would hope and literally pray as I do daily for the City, that all parties to governance step up and work together for the common good, the common weal, commonwealth. I dont want to think that some deep pocket weasels are capitalizing on their wealth by donating to any party that would work against the community interest. Conscience should not be cowardly, but should drive the individual. If you have children, what the hell kind of example are you setting by saying we had to override this admittedly imperfect approach of a cap, by rationalizing that the city needs money to promote its agenda while all evidence by any reasonably intelligent citizen would say, (a) is your agenda appropriate to your planning process, (b) the basic indicators of why investors would invest in New Rochelle (strong school system, business district) and have you really stripped down to the bare, most meaningful essentials before taking this perilous route that could prove even more dangerous for us in the future if Andrew exercises his emotional and political muscle.

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You Had To See This Coming

While our candidate in chief continues to abuse his stewardship as our Commander in Chief, his "committee" comprised of members of both parties is working hard to avoid the holocaust of meeting a November commitment to arrive at a fiscal compromise. If this is not reached, immediate, perhaps dangerous cuts will be made to the defense budget. Of course we have the added drama of both parties being largely ideologically bound to outmoded principles of governance and this makes the task more difficult.

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