Keeping it Real


by Douglas Boettner


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New York State is one of the most populated states in the country. It is also one of the largest states in area. It is also one of the most visited states in the country by both citizens and foreigners. It is, however, one of the smallest capital cities in terms of population and size. Many states’ capitals are large cities, such as Boston, Phoenix, Indianapolis and Austin.

Many people, including myself, affectionately refer to Albany as Smalbany. The city proper has a population less than 100,000 (est. at 98,000), but the greater metro area has a population of nearly 850,000. There are two schools of thought regarding the smallness of Albany as the state capital: (1) the city should be more of a cultural and business center; and, (2) the city has a quaintness that is attractive and the city doesn’t need to become more like a big city just because it’s the capital of one of the largest and greatest state in the union.

As the saying goes, I feel strongly both ways. I think Albany could be more of an upstate economic engine but that would mean more people and traffic and more buildings and maybe even a convention center. The other side of me thinks it’s nice to not have to worry about traffic jams, about lines at stores and restaurants and the Albany skyline looks pretty good right as it is now.

So with the governor’s newly formed statewide Economic Development Councils starting their public forum meetings, it’s time to find out from you as readers and citizens of the area, not only what needs to be done to ignite the state’s economy, but what should be done in Albany to make it become what we think it should be as the capital of New York State.

I’d like to find out the thoughts of my readers in the following areas:

  • Are you satisfied with the way Albany is presently?
  • Would you like to see Albany become more metropolitan, similar to other state capitals?
  • If so, what would Albany need to do to become more metropolitan? In my humble opinion, here are a couple examples of what I think Albany would need to do:

 

Build a convention center and hotel complex

Build more hotels downtown

Create an arts colony with additional exhibit spaces and incentives for artists to live in the downtown area

Increase the number of private residential housing units in the downtown area

Develop the waterfront area

Bring professional sports back to the area

Okay, let’s get the discussion started. I need your input. I plan on attending several of the Regional Economic Council meetings and I’d like to know what the readers think on this matter.

In my next post I will be looking more to the topic of how New York State can bring manufacturing companies back to this area and to New York State in general. Stay tuned.

 Douglas Boettner

doug.boettner@gmail.com

 


Let’s continue by starting out where we left off with our couple Gary & Steve. Below is the final post of the original series:

The purpose of this series was to educate both myself and my readers of the myriad of issues a gay couple faces living in New York State and wanting to be married and to have the marriage legally recognized by the state they were each born and reside in.

Citizens and politicians are making this an issue in their campaigns as are the individual political parties. The citizens appear to have very strong feelings about the issue, but may not really be that well-informed as to what all the issues are both from a civil and a religious standpoint.

That is exactly what I set out to do with the cooperation of Gary and Steve. We wanted to get their personal perspectives out there, to identify the issues, and to see how the non-passage of legalized same-sex marriage was adversely affecting their lives.

My opinion is we have accomplished our goal. Anyone reading this column should now more fully be aware of the issues, not just from their own standpoint, but from a couple who is actually affected by them.

So in this last part of the series, I have asked Gary and Steve to summarize, in a single narrative, what their hopes are for the future; what actions they would like to see the New York State legislature take; and, what they plan on doing if the State legislature takes no action in the next year.

I also want to hear from any and all readers regarding their feelings on this issue. I truly hope this series has been an eye-opening experience for you and has opened your minds to the issues surrounding same-sex marriage.

 So it appears we accomplished out goal of educating the masses about the controversial and pragmatic aspects of same-sex marriage from the perspective of a male same-sex couple, let’s now turn to see what happens now that the law has passed in New York State.

We will follow the same format as last time and by asking a series of general and specific questions, to which both Gary and Steve will provide answers, opinions and thoughts on each question.

Now let’s get to the questions:

  • Now that the law has passed, when will you be officially getting married in New York State?
  •  Gary: We have decided to celebrate our marriage on February 15, 2013 – 25 years to the day that we became official lovers.
  • Steve: We’re waiting until our 25th anniversary in 2013.

 

  • If you are not getting married right away, what are your reasons for waiting? Are there things you need to put in place, or people you need to notify, before you set the date? Or are you just taking your time to plan it appropriately?
  • Steve: The reason for waiting is simply that since we’ve waited this long and what are a couple more years. Plus we want to plan out the event correctly – get all the details talked out first. 
  • Gary: We felt that having such a momentous occasion would stimulate a greater sense pride and togetherness. We also would like to really make this wedding a day to remember for everyone. Finding that perfect venue, guest list, and special honeymoon place. It all comes in to play!

 

  • With passage of the law, and upon actually getting married in New York State, are each of you now entitled to receive each other’s pension benefits if one dies before the other? 
  • Gary: According to the Marriage Act we are just as equal as any bi-sex couple. All items in New York are offered to us as spouses. Teaching benefits would be the one that would actually affect us at present. If the Federal Government would do away with DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) and follow each States decision on the subject, at that point we could receive each other’s Social Security (that is if it is still around when the time comes).
  •  Steve: That is certainly my understanding – equal rights and protections.

 

  • Have all of your other issues been addressed, and have your fears and concerns been allayed by the passage of this legislation? 
  • Gary: I wouldn’t say all, especially since we will still have to file two income taxes, one jointly with New York and one, separately with the Federal Government.  One great thing is that Health Insurance will be taken “pre-tax” verses post-tax as it has for the past 20 years. As this bill has passed both houses, I don’t believe there will be any appealing it, unlike California, which will be back on track soon. Also with all the other states looking to make it legal, I just can’t see the world turning backward in this 21st Century. At least I hope not! Realizing this is a civil issue has certainly made folks “see the light” so to speak and understand that EVERYONE deserves a chance at love and equality under the Constitution.    
  • Steve: We have, or I should say Gary, had taken care of all of our financial needs years ago by meeting with our lawyer and getting everything in place to protect each of us should one die before the other. Of course there was nothing we could do about pensions, social security, or post tax on paying for health insurance (I have to pay tax on my contribution to Gary’s health insurance as he is under my plan as a domestic partner).  I do think things are good and everything will line up correctly. The next step is for the federal government to pass such a law for the country and be done with discrimination once and for all!
  • Gary, I understand you have become an ordained minister and are offering your services to same-sex couples who would like to get married. Was this in anticipation of the same-sex marriage law changing or something you had planned all along?
  • Gary: Actually, many people get ordained to perform ceremonies for family members and friends. I don’t have any friends getting married at this point. My idea of becoming ordained was for ‘the greater good’. Being ordained allows me ability to conduct wedding, funeral and baptism ceremonies. As a Non-Denominational Minister, I appeal to many people who question traditional organized religion. My motivation was strongly to offer a safe, trusting, avenue for couples to experience the wedding of their lives. 

    My particular Ministry is not specific to Same Sex Marriages. I will conduct marriages for anyone. As long as they have a License from New York State, or another state, I can offer my services. The idea is to make this day one everyone will remember. If it is a same-sex marriage, I am looking to have the couple comfortable with their Minister. No worries or concerns of judgment.

    In my short career of Ministry, I have learned there is truly a need for Non-Denominational Ministers. The 21st Century has truly rushed in a need for non-traditional ceremonies – gearing more toward love, compassion, and a general sense of commitment. Currently I am involved with two couples who want just that. Looking to involve those who have supported them over all the years of their committed relationship. Mom’s & Dad’s who are PROUD that their sons and daughters are able to be married. If anyone were to follow me through a prenuptial meeting, they would be astounded how much these couples are committed and excited about their ceremonies. As with any wedding, they are full of love, meaning and, of course, fun. It’s a day to remember and I am able to help them to create this special day.

This concludes my coverage of our couple, Gary & Steve, and the issues surrounding same sex marriage……..for the time being. As you know, many people are not happy about the new law in New York State and I am sure it will be tested on a constitutional and religious basis. So, I will continue to monitor the situation as it unfolds and of course, I will provide an update on Gary & Steve’s wedding ceremony in 2013. 

Douglas Boettner

doug.boettner@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Facebook, by anyone’s standards, is a social network phenomenon. It has served to link people and to reunite people and families all over the world.

Nowhere has it been more profound than in the Facebook (FB) page, ”You’re probably from schenetcady if you remember…” 

(http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/227170413993332/?notif_t=group_activity).

This page has signed on nearly 5,000 members in just over a week after being created by Robert Robby Shafer. This, to me, is an astounding number. I have checked other similar FB pages and I see that the city of New Rochelle, with a population of 77,000 (Schenectady’s is 66,000) had only 900 or so members as of last week.

I contacted Robert and he told me this when I asked him about the reasons he created the FB page:

“I started the group because I grew up in Schenectady and reminisce about a lot of the good times I had there. Everybody knew each other and we had a great town a lot of the places mentioned in the post were a part of all of our past. I hope this page will show the current residents there what a wonderful town we had and how united we were. If the city of Schenectady knew what we felt on this page and all of the things that are now left abandoned in the city maybe somebody in office there will care enough to change what is happening to that great city. This page has bought together everyone from the old Schenectady the way I would want to remember it. I also hope to help with different charities there with fundraisers to draw attention to Schenectady and the problems that exist there. I know it is impossible to go back in time, but this group page keeps our memories of Schenectady alive.”

This page has exploded to a degree that it caught the attention of Michael Lamendola, a reporter with the Daily Gazette in Schenectady. Here is a link to his article entitled “Facebook pages provoke wave of local nostalgia” that appears in the Daily Gazette on Saturday, August20, 2011:

http://www.dailygazette.com/news/2011/aug/20/0820_facebook/

So why the large numbers for Schenectady you may ask? Here are my personal thoughts:

  • Schenectady was a very good place to grow up in, especially during my childhood years and straight through until I returned from college and started my professional career…so, from 1957 when I arrived until about 1980.

 

  • Schenectady was a booming city back then with the General Electric plant operating at full strength. All the businesses necessary to support the workers were thriving. Downtown Schenectady was alive with activity.

 

  • It was a simpler time and place to live in. Economic times were better than now. Going to high school was fun for most of the kids. There wasn’t as much turmoil and worries of kids bringing guns and weapons to school and bulling was almost not existent.

 

  • People had pride in their neighborhood and in the city. They also had a “Be True to Your School” kinda of loyalty to their high schools. There was no rivalry as intense as the Mont Pleasant vs Linton football game on Election Day each year. Shouts of “Stomp the Swamp” and “Kill the Hill’ still resound today.

 

  • The family unit was much closer then than now. Families did many group activities such as; picnics in Central Park; heading downtown to go shopping, especially at Christmas; heading out to some of the first fast food chains for dinner; and of course piling in the car to get some ice cream. There were many more family BBQs for the holiday events of Memorial Day, the 4th of July and Labor Day. We all hung out and were friends with our cousins.

 

  • The people who are joining this group en masse are feeling the pangs of nostalgia just the same as I am. They are remembering better times of their youth. They are reconnecting with families who lived in their neighborhood or who they went to school with. I have reconnected with about ten people so far myself.

 

The sadder part of this story is that the longer you are a member of the group it starts to become very obvious how far Schenectady has fallen from grace over the last 30 years. But that is exactly what makes our memories of the city grow that much fonder for us. To a person they all seem to lament the fact that it is a shame to have watched the deterorization of a once great city; their hometown. Many of the group members no longer live in Schenectady, and in fact, have moved out of New York State altogether…..which is the topic of a whole other article.

So if you were born in Schenectady, grew up in Schenectady or just lived there for awhile, check out this FB page. Feel the love and the nostalgia and camaraderie that come from having memories of Schenectady.

Douglas Boettner

 doug.boettner@gmail.com


As William Shakespeare wrote in his farce As You Like It:

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…”

How very apropos is this passage given the lively theater we have been provided by the leaders of our great country. It is my humble opinion, as a veteran of the inner workings of New York State government, that this entire scenario was pre-scripted and the outcome decided early on, much like the way an author of a play knows the ending and then procedes to develop the other acts in the play so it comes to the conclusion and ending they have come up with.

When asked by readers and friends over the last few weeks what I thought was going to happen with this debt ceiling issue…would the deadline come and go without an extension of the debt ceiling…my answer was an emphatic….NO.  The downside of not approving the increase was too staggering. That being said, leaders on both sides, but mainly the Republicans, were looking to get as much political mileage as they could out of the situation. The obstructionists were always going to cave, but not before bringing it to the brink of disaster. To cave too early would not have sat well with the extremists of their party or with the Tea Partiers who now hold great sway with them. Waiting until the last-minute to cave allows them to save face and to say “we did what we could but the stakes were just too high”. Remember, the stakes were just as high back a few months ago.

The real problem with bringing the entire issue to the eleventh hour is that the world financiers were watching this “play” very closely. The cost of borrowing, as most of us know, is based primarily on risk. The risk that the borrower may default on the loan. The higher the risk, even if only a perceived risk and not a real one, could greatly increase the cost to borrow. This can still happen now. What we showed the world in this dangerous ”play” is that we do not have our house in order and there is a dysfunction in the government of this country that is at a level never before seen.

I want to give kudos and a big BRAVO to all the actors….they each played their respective parts very well and had the majority of the people in this country thinking a deal was never to be reached. The drama was thick. The bottom line now reminds me of yet another play title by The Bard…”All’s Well That Ends Well”. 

No encores please. Let’s see if there’s a sequel in the works.

Douglas Boettner

doug.boettner@gmail.com


In my continuing quest to kep it real, and to provide all available options to the readers of this page, all three of you, I discover an emerging political party in this country.

In today’s column, Thomas L. Friedman discusses a new third-party that is taking shape in America. It’s designed to be a party made up of people frustrated with the Republican right-wing and the Democratic left-wing and Independents. It’s called Americans Elect and can be accessed at www.americanselect.org

Let me know what you think about this new initiative.

Douglas Boettner

doug.boettner@gmail.com


Okay, it’s time for a rant. A rant against government trying to regulate every aspect of our lives. Government tends to forget that our Constitution gives us certain rights, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It doesn’t make any qualifications. It doesn’t say we are entitled to these rights as long as the current government agrees. It is generally believed and understood that the only unstated qualification is that we are free to pursue these things as long as we don’t harm other people. So, we must abide by the laws of the land.

Our founding fathers held the right of the citizens to guarantee  life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It didn’t say government could pass laws to limit what we do in our pursuit of happiness if that pursuit was unhealthy for us. Drinking and smoking tobacco were both things out founding fathers enjoyed and in many cases were in the business of producing alcohol and tobacco products.

If New York State, and many other states and municipalities, continue to pass laws like the excessive tax on tobacco and alcohol, they are effectively legislating to elimination, or at a minimum, trying to legislation the end of these pursuits by their citizenry. I mean a 75 percent tax on tobacco in New York State? Seriously???? Not allowing a person to open a business that allows smoking in restaurants or bars if the owners wish to run a restaurant or bar where only smokers can be admitted, is denying a person the opportunity to make an income. What is the harm if only smokers are allowed in the establishment?

Forces are trying to eliminate smoking everywhere in our society. Mayor Bloomberg has now passed a law in NYC to prohibit smoking outside in NYC parks and beaches. Outside. I can see in buildings and restaurants and bars that allow non-smokers. But then why not allow a room in the establishment where only smokers can go to?

It is a basic infringement to our rights as US citizens. Our forefathers are collectively turning in their graves. Our military has considered not allowing smoking by our soldiers. You have got to be kidding. Men and women who are being put in harm’s way for their country would not be allowed to have a smoke after returning from a dangerous mission?

I understand the argument that smoking is generally unhealthy, we all have seen the warnings, and sickness related to smoking do increase the cost of treating these illnesses and our health insurance premiums. I draw a distinction, however, between cigarette smoking and cigar and pipe smoking. Cigarette smoking is far more unhealthy than cigar or pipe smoking. There are many studies that bear this out. Go to http://www.cigarrights.org/ . The simple reason is that cigar and pipe smokers do not directly inhale the smoke and cigarettes use far more chemicals in their manufacture. This argument also doesn’t hold water when you look at the devastating effect the drinking and abuse of alcohol has on the cost of health care in this country. It far outweighs tobacco, yet alcohol is not uniformly banned in the majority of America. With alcohol we have the choice. We weigh the dangers and act accordingly. The same should be true with tobacco.

In my opinion, I should be allowed to partake in any activity as long as it does not infringe on the health and well-being of another person.  Absent t total ban on smoking, people are still going to smoke. If alcohol is banned, people are still going to drink. Can you say Prohibition?

Douglas Boettner

doug.boettner@gmail.com


I found this letter to the editor recently in a local newspaper. It mirrors how I feel about public employee unions. As you know, I have written about this topic often. Keep in mind, the writer and I are not bashing public employees. I was a public employee covered by a public employees union for a time in my career. Are there state employees that are deadwood? Yes. Are there hardworking state employees. Of course. I don’t seem to know any, save for my wife. Just kidding.

Here is what the letter said:

Labor

Civil service unions are hurting us all

As a lifelong union man, I feel very strongly that labor/trade unions are vital to employees of private businesses.  I feel just as strongly that government workers should not be allowed to form unions.

The differences are vast.  First and foremost is the fact that a business owner is negotiating with his own money.  He knows what he can afford; how much he can pay in salary and associated benefits.  He also must be mindful of competition in his industry.  The bottom line is that it is a profit and loss situation that is not a factor in government.

For most of this country’s history civil service workers were not organized.  True, during that period they were not paid very much, but they often had a job for life with necessary benefits.  During the prosperous years of the 20th century, union organizers convinced politicians to allow unions in government.  It was a win-win situation for politicians who “negotiated” the preposterous contracts that in many ways far exceeded those of the private sector.

Most importantly, they were not spending their own money.  They also were enhancing their chances for re-election, the goal of any elected official.

The loser in all this is John Q. Public, whose taxes support government.  Most states are in precarious financial situations.  But many public unions do not seem to get it.  They apparently do not realize that there are millions of unemployed no longer able to pay taxes or put food on the table.

Unfortunately, the media is using the term “union busting” to further inflame a volatile situation.  In reality, this is not union busting.  It is the beginning of an intensive process to eliminate a situation that should never have been permitted.

Let me know how you feel about this issue.

Douglas Boettner

doug.boettner@gmail.com


As many of you know, I have been chastising the public employee unions for not making concessions to New York State, especially in view of imminent layoffs. To me it seemed extremely foolish and selfish of the unions. After all, their brethren, union workers in the private sector we feeling the pain of layoffs and salary rollbacks.

Why did public union members think they were immune to sharing the pain and helping out a State that has been extremely generous to them. I know, New York State was very generous to me during my 34+ year career and I now enjoy the fruits of their kindness. But these are different times. New York State and the other states are experiencing severe and unparalleled budget deficits related to a sluggish national and state economy.

I don’t usually like to do this but, Danny Donohue, I told you so and although you finally got there, you could have done this under Governor Paterson and probably avoided some of the pain from this current agreement. Let’s see how smart Ken Brynien is and whether PEF follows suit.

Douglas Boettner

doug.boettner@gmail.com


An article in this past Saturday’s New York Times read, “Union Concessions to Avert Connecticut Layoffs: A $1.6 Billion Deal Will Spare 5,000 State Workers”. The concessions involve 45,000 state workers over a period of two years. The deal will actually say Connecticut taxpayers over $21.5 billion over the next 20 years through structural changes in employee compensation. Other states are following suit; but no New York.

As a taxpayers and a long-time state employee, I am outraged that given the dire straits we, as a state, find ourselves, the unions believe they are above sharing in the pain many private and school district employees, are feeling. They are also taxpayers in New York.

In Connecticut, Governor Malloy was heavily supported by the public employee unions and yet they have negotiated out a deal that is beneficial to both Connecticut and to the state employees by eliminating the need to lay off people. In New York State, as in the private corporate world, it appears greed has reared its ugly head once again. I am betting that Governor Cuomo will follow the lead from Connecticut and do what’s right for New York State and its taxpayers by chopping the head of this greedy monster we can CSEA and PEF in New York State.

Here is an article I wrote some time ago and I reprint it here. The message is the same, but our governor is different.

Public Unions: Wake up and Look Around (originally posted May 2009)

It’s becoming painfully apparent to me that Danny Donohue and Ken Brynien either don’t buy newspapers or don’t have the ability and common sense to read them. The economy is in shambles. Mortgage foreclosures are at epidemic proportions. Major corporations, including mega-banks and major car manufacturers are failing. Unemployment is approaching record highs and is expected to exceed them. Yet, both of the major public employment unions are unwilling to re-negotiate the terms of their respective contracts. Now, if all of the above were not happening, or was happening but not to the degree that it is happening, I could better understand. Unions do not like to give up what they have won at a bargaining table. But Ken and Danny, open your eyes, this is getting to the point where either you agree to some concessions or you lose members to layoffs. Maybe they would like to canvass their membership to ask the question: “What would you rather do, insist on no concessions and have the Governor lay off 8,700 people; or, give back your 3% raise and have nobody laid off?” This is one of the reasons I have argued that the usefulness of public employees unions has passed with the times. The old school hard line dinosaurs like Danny Donohue are a thing of the past. Once they were needed to fight against the employers who had the upper hand and treated employees unfairly. But come on, do they really believe state employees in the last 30 years have been treated unfairly? How do you feel about how the state employees have been treated in comparison to the “Joe the Plumbers” out there? Wouldn’t it be nice not to worry about being laid off, and getting to receive raises regardless of how badly the state of the nation’s and state’s economy has sunk? Remember, as a 35+ year high-level professional manager in New York State government, I know that New York State could easily lay off 10% of its workforce, in certain select titles and targeted areas and it would not affect the services it provides to the taxpayers at all. The state agencies involved wouldn’t miss a beat.

Douglas Boettner

doug.boettner@gmail.com


May 13, 2011

In a recent article in the Legislative Gazette Assemblyman Tedisco says the Assembly could save $26 million going paperless; yes 26 million smackeroos. In this age of high-technology there is no good reason not to take advantage of it and save huge dollars in the process. In the case of the Assembly, they need to pass a law amending the Constitutional requirement to place a hardcopy of each bill on legislators desks and pass a bill entitled the “Legislative Online Digital Paperwork Reduction Act”. But Assemblyman Tedisco has at least started the ball rolling.

Now let’s take a peak at the Office of the State Comptroller and how well they are doing in saving money by not producing paper and handling paper. Comptroller DiNapoli, after all, is the fiscal watchdog for New York State. He is charged with making sure the state agencies act in a responsible manner in meeting their missions and legislative mandates.

A large part of the Comptroller’s responsibility is reviewing and approving and filing contracts entered into by the 300+ state contracting offices. I know this from my tenure as the Director of Contracts at the State Comptroller’s Office for over 22 years. The Bureau of Contracts receives more than 18,000 new contracts and even more contract amendments each year. This volume represents tens of millions of pages. The hardcopy contracts are logged in, and then physically reviewed by auditors and then copies are sent back to the submitting agency. We are talking a humongous amount of paper here.

In the mid-1990s, I visited the Office of Contracts for the Mayor’s Office in New York City. My counterpart for New York City, John Graham, had invited my staff and I to take a peek at how his office had gone totally paperless in its contract review and approval process. It was very impressive……and it was saving New York City large amounts of money and it was a hugely more efficient operation than ours. I was impressed. For an initial investment of about $5 million dollars we could start running a paperless contract approval system. The pay back was in only two years. New York City was processing about 20 million pages of contracts at the time….close to what we were processing.

I made the presentation to management and I was told they didn’t want to make the $5 million dollar investment. This was under Comptroller McCall. I voiced my objection that it was “penny-wise and pound foolish”. The New York City people could not believe we weren’t going in the same direction they went and realizing the savings and efficiencies of their system.

Long story made short, it is now 2011, sixteen years later, and Tom DiNapoli’s office is still handling over 20 million pages of contracts and not taking advantage of the savings. Today, document storage technologies not only have advanced, but they are much cheaper than they were 16 years ago. There is absolutely no good reason for the Comptroller’s Office not to be going paperless. In addition to the savings his Office would realize there are the peripheral savings each of the 300+ state contracting offices would realize. Can he continue to waste this money in view of the large budget deficit?

Come on Tom, join the 21st century. Modernize the process and start setting a good example for New York State. And kudos to my friend Jimmy Tedisco.

Douglas Boettner

doug.boettner@gmail.com