Albany Times Union. May 24, 2021.

Editorial: Time to fix these ‘Lights’

Paralyzing traffic. Families unable to get to their own front doors. Damage to the Washington Park ecosystem. Frustration. Resentment. Capital Holiday Lights in the Park might be a beacon of Christmas spirit, but midtown Albany residents aren’t feeling it.

Frankly, we don’t blame them. None of us would want the kind of traffic the event brings — as many as 125,000 visitors last year — in our neighborhoods. The show has grown too big for its locale, and something has to give.

With every neighborhood association around the park against the event, and with the city calling for changes, the Police Athletic League has said it wants to “thoughtfully address” residents’ concerns. If they’re sincere in wanting to find a solution, they need to be thinking big.

Could they limit the number of vehicles per night with a ticketing system? Could they create a safe way for pedestrians to see the show — not just at limited hours or on scattered evenings, but throughout the event? Could visitors who come by car be shuttled by trolley from a state parking facility? Everything should be on the table, because meaningful change is what’s needed here — something to bring down the scale of this event.

Or there’s another solution: Move it out of the park.

Holiday Lights is PAL’s primary fundraiser for their after-school and youth sports programs. The event is deservedly popular. Good for PAL for being willing to work this out. If they, the city and the neighbors can find a solution everyone can live with, great. If not, then it’s time to flip the switch — and take this event elsewhere.

No dumping here

Ah, the sweet smell of success: In the face of public outcry, Waste Management Co. has withdrawn its application to operate a household garbage transfer station at the Port of Albany. The plan would have been insult-to-injury for nearby South End residents who ostensibly live in an “environmental justice zone.”

Because the proposal was withdrawn, not rejected, WM could reapply at a later date — and indeed, this was their third time to apply to haul garbage at the site. So let’s be clear: This plan should not just be tossed aside. It should be shredded, composted, incinerated, irretrievably disposed of in the environmentally friendly manner of your choosing.

And public officials should not lose sight of the bigger issue here: that it’s wrong to have put low-income housing in the midst of an industrial zone. The Ezra Prentice Homes community should be moved away from the freight trains, from the truck traffic, from the air pollution, and from a proposal like this ever being dumped on them again.

End of the “gag rule”

President Joe Biden is moving to undo the Trump administration’s family planning “gag rule,” which forbade Title X-funded health centers from providing patients with, or referring them for — or even discussing — an abortion. The move slashed the number of places able to offer affordable birth control and cancer screenings, and made it harder for low-income families to get care. A number of states, including New York, stopped taking Title X funds altogether.

With Democrats in control in Washington, now is the time for Congress to act to block the gag provision. Title X funding is too important to be at risk the next time the White House changes parties.

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Advance Media New York. May 23, 2021.

Editorial: Don’t profit from tragedy, and other leadership lessons for Gov. Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo filed his financial disclosure and released his tax records last week, revealing that he stands to earn more than $5 million from his memoir, “American Crisis: Lessons in Leadership from the Covid-19 Pandemic.”

It’s obscene for the governor to profit from the pain of New Yorkers who suffered from the coronavirus. A $500,000 donation to charity for COVID relief doesn’t make it better. Cuomo should give it all away.

Cuomo’s book was timed to capitalize on the national fame he cultivated in daily televised briefings and softball TV interviews with his brother, CNN’s Chris Cuomo.

Indeed, at the start of the pandemic, Cuomo did show leadership. The governor’s calm, data-driven approach to managing the deadly virus stood in contrast to the denialist, disorganized response coming out of the White House.

The shine came off as journalists and investigators dug up scandal after scandal: nursing home deaths undercounted by half, a key Health Department report rewritten to make the state’s response look better, staffers on the public payroll “volunteering” their time to work on the book, and then investigations into the nursing home issue that caused the publisher to drop the paperback version.

You can still get the book on Amazon, where actual customer reviews are mixed in with scathing critiques of the governor’s tactics from New Yorkers who lost loved ones in nursing homes. “Bella’s Mom” wrote: “The only point of even reading this book is to understand what not to do if you would like to be an effective leader.”

We’re done taking lessons in leadership from the governor. But we have a few for him:

Don’t declare “mission accomplished” until the war is won.

Cuomo’s pandemic memoir came out in October — after COVID cases abated for the summer but before the deadly winter surge. It was much too soon to declare victory. President George W. Bush learned this lesson the hard way, too.

Admit error.

Early on, Cuomo established the narrative of himself as a competent and caring leader. He blamed others (mainly Trump) for the bad hand New York was dealt during the pandemic. He’ll never admit the administration made mistakes, such as sending COVID-positive nursing home patients back to their residences. Instead, the administration bent the data to fit the governor’s heroic narrative.

Listen to the experts.

For all of Cuomo’s professed reliance on data and science, he frequently countermanded the advice of experts in the state Department of Health, leading to an exodus of experienced, highly trained staff. Later, the governor installed a longtime political ally as unpaid “czar” to handle the logistics of vaccine distribution, skirting ethics laws and injecting politics into it.

Don’t give special treatment to people close to you.

Cuomo’s family and friends got special, expedited access to state coronavirus testing from the earliest days of the pandemic, when most New Yorkers could not get a test or waited weeks for results. That’s just wrong.

Don’t ask people to make sacrifices you aren’t willing to make yourself.

In November, the governor told a radio interviewer he had invited his mother and daughters to Thanksgiving dinner in Albany – at the same time he was beseeching New Yorkers not to gather with family members outside their household “bubbles.” After a firestorm of criticism, Cuomo changed his plans.

Don’t profit from others’ misfortune.

Enough said.

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Plattsburg Press-Republican. May 22, 2021.

Editorial: BolaWrap offers valuable tool for policing

They’re nerve-wracking scenes.

A man, clearly in distress and acting erratically, has been running in traffic at night.

A male suspect, intoxicated and violent, has been threatening his wife and children.

They’re the types of police calls that have gained national attention in recent years: where a suspect has to be halted and restrained for their own and other’s safety.

How to handle those situations while keeping the officers, suspects and bystanders safe is a question of our time with few easy answers.

But WRAP Technologies, the creators of the BolaWrap remote restraint device, might have one possible piece of that puzzle.

Videos of the above scenarios were shown as part of a demonstration of the BolaWrap held for the press and local police agencies at South Plattsburgh Fire Department’s Station 1 Wednesday morning.

Firing a length of Kevlar cord at a suspect’s legs, the device aims to quickly restrain the subject while minimizing the potential for harm.

It was a dramatic and effective showcase, the “bolos” wrapping themselves smoothly around demonstrators’ legs while the loud bang of the device firing jolted everyone in the room to attention.

Naturally, one can’t help but look at the little yellow box and think of the last major “restrain from a distance” policing tool: the taser.

Delivering electric shocks through metal barbs into a person’s skin, the taser is intended to accomplish much the same goal: to bring stability to an unstable situation.

But nearly half a century after the first Taser prototype was invented, research such as a 2012 study in the journal Circulation has shown that the device’s shocks have the potential to cause serious injuries and medical conditions including cardiac arrest.

The less intense methods of tools like the BolaWrap seem designed to directly address those concerns. There’s no electricity, no chemicals, just rope and two four-pronged hooks at each end that help “anchor” it around a subject.

Of course, this begs the question: how good is the device at restraining people without the stunning spark of a taser?

To the demonstrators’ credit, they took a number of questions about the device’s effectiveness in different scenarios: when someone is running, when they’re overweight, when they’re wearing bulky clothing.

Ultimately, the answer they gave came down to the fact that it’s not a magic bullet. It won’t fit all situations perfectly. But it’s one more option that police could have other than “pain compliance.”

Again, the question of non-lethal and less-than-lethal policing is a puzzle that will take many different pieces to solve: a mix of policy, training and technology.

There will be critics on all sides picking this device apart for not being enough to solve the question of policing in the United States.

With that often being a question of life and death, they are right to do so.

But from what we observed at the demonstration, the BolaWrap has the potential to help avert the tragedies we’ve become too accustomed to mourning, and we should all be behind that goal.

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Jamestown Post-Journal. May 24, 2021.

Editorial: This Political Dance Is Getting Uglier By The Year

In electoral politics, to the victor go the spoils.

But some Democrats are going to unreasonable lengthy to enjoy the spoils of their electoral victories.

Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, recently exhorted Democrats in the Assembly to include Republicans on a cyberbullying task force. The group would have included five appointees by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and two each by Senate and Assembly leadership.

When Goodell asked Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, sponsor of the bill, why Republicans had been left off the task force, Barrett said there was representation from the Assembly, Senate and governor’s office and no more members were needed.

“So my question, again, is why do we not have an appointment from the minority leader in each house as well?” Goodell asked.

“Because elections have consequences,” Barrett responded.

What a bunch of poppycock. Elections mean a party has the right to lead and set a direction, not completely disregard anyone with differing viewpoints. Such winner-takes-all politics permeates federal and state politics to the detriment of the residents on whose behalf elected politicians are supposed to be working. Barrett’s caustic statement on the Assembly floor is no different than President Barack Obama, President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden governing through executive order because, as President Obama said in 2010 to Republican Congress members, “elections have consequences.”

In fairness, not all Democrats are as caustic as Barrett. A similar situation popped up in the state Senate just last week over an Opioid Settlement Fund Advisory Board, but Sen. Liz Krueger, D-New York City, responded to Republican Sen. Tom O’Mara’s complaint about a lack of minority party inclusion on the board by asking Sen. Gustavo Rivera, D-Bronx, to take O’Mara’s request under advisement. Krueger toes the party line on many issues, but has also shown herself to be the type of politician who tries to work with Republicans rather than simply disregard them.

But the sheer fact that two such examples have cropped up within days of each other is concerning. Elections have consequences, but one of those consequences shouldn’t mean disenfranchising wide swaths of the state because those residents elected a Republican instead of a Democrat. It’s not as if adding two Republicans to a nine- or 11-member task force changes much, but at least then interested Republicans have a chance to serve.

Republicans haven’t always behaved well, and we’re sure Democrats have had more than their fill of the GOP’s constant efforts to end Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive power, the GOP’s hammering of Democrats over how COVID was handled in nursing homes and countless other partisan attacks.

In the end, it takes two to tango — and this dance is getting uglier by the year.

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Auburn Citizen. May 26, 2021.

Editorial: NY state overtime spending requires careful monitoring

A big spike in overtime at New York state agencies last year was to be expected — and a lot of it was certainly justified — but the state still needs to work on better managing its payroll.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli recently reported that the state spent a record $850 million for more than 19 million hours of overtime last year. The coronavirus pandemic actually resulted in less spending is some places, such as at state universities that were forced to shut their doors and send a lot of employees home, but in other fields it was all hands on deck.

“The COVID-19 pandemic required state workers across New York to work long, grueling hours to deal with a crisis never before seen during our lifetime,” DiNapoli said in a statement.

Indeed, addressing issues related to the pandemic led to an increase in overtime at the Department of Labor of nearly 18,000% and an increase at the Department of Health of 288%. The pandemic created an emergency situation, and the need to address it is reflected in overtime spending for 2020. But the latest figures also point out a trend that has nothing to do with COVID-19 — the fact that state overtime spending has consistently risen over the past 10 years.

The overtime report isn’t all bad news, as nearly a dozen state agencies saw a decrease over the past year. But the pandemic can’t take all the blame for the overall increase when overtime continues to rise every year.

To be fair, the state has made some gains. The average number of workers outside of the higher education system is down 6.1% since 2011, but some agencies seem to be increasingly relying on overtime to get their work done.

A certain amount of overtime is better than growing government by adding more employees, but now that the state is emerging from the pandemic, it’s a good time to reassess needs and continue to try to find the right balance between the size of the workforce and the growing need for people to work extra hours.

END