Thursday, November 12, 2009

So it's Friday the 13th

RETIRING from office at the end of this year: long-serving County Ttreasurer Willis Vermilyea and his long-serving deputy, Madelyn Brandow. The latter departure means that there will not be an obvious or ‘logical’ successor—a person who would be appointed by the legislators to complete Mr Vermilyea’s present term and then, perhaps, would stand for a full four-year term at the November 2, 2010, election.

-----Mr Vermilyea, 64, a trained accountant, was a county legislator (R-Coxsackie) before being elected in 1979 to the Treasurer’s office. He subsequently left public service briefly to be chief financial officer of the (now former) Greene County Memorial Hospital, then returned to the Treasurer’s office in 1994. In addition, he has been a County Industrial Development Agency board member for 20 years, some of them as chairman.

-----IIn a generally circulated statement, Mr Vermilyea voiced particular satisfaction over the facts that during his tenure the county’s unrestricted fund balance rose from less than $1 million to more than $8 million, that a “fully integrated accounting and budget system” was put in place, and that GreeneLand’s credit rating has risen from close to the bottom among New York counties to the top fourth (a change that “relates to thousands of dollar in savings on future interest payments”).

-----The Treasurer’s job pays $74,000 in yearly salary plus liberal health and retirement benefits.

FORCED OUT by a Stiefel Laboratories announcement of plant closings will be, barring a reversal, 260 employees of at Stiefel's Oak Hill plant, along with the same number in Sligo, Ireland, plus 100 in Singapore and another 60 in Coral Gables, Florida. Such is the news that was passed down Wednesday night from GlaxoSmithKline, the giant pharmaceuticals company that bought Stiefel last spring, and gave what some locals took to be assurances that the Oak Hill plant would remain in operation (especially in light of various tax concessions). The announced closings would be phased to completion in 2012 or 2013. No word yet on the fate of other Stiefel/GSK employees in Canada, Brazil, Mexico, and Pakistan, as well as elsewhere in the U.S.A.

UNEARTHED by archaeologists working at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill (the estate known as Cedar Grove) last week: the original stone foundations of artist Thomas Cole’s “new studio,” which was opened back in 1846, was used by the artist until his death in 1848, then fell into disrepair until being demolished in 1973. The revealed foundations now are covered in plastic, to be shown on educational occasions and to await the accumulation of capital that is sufficient to fund the studio’s restoration (in period style on the outside, but with interior arrangements ensuring the health and safety of exhibits). POST-ELECTION NOTE. Heated as they were in some towns, the GreeneLand elections of last November 3 did not attract heavy participation. The turnout figure, according to the Board of Elections, was 9327. That's a lot less than the turnout of voters for the 2008 presidential-on-down elections: 17,259. It's also a bit less than the turnout for the local elections in 2007: 9791 voters.

OF CHURCH & STATE. Does the use of church premises as polling stations in civic elections mark a breach of the principle of separation of church and state? Rev. Victor Nelson of Cairo’s Resurrection Lutheran Church uses that question as point of departure (in a Daily Mail letter) for thoughtful reflections on related matters. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution, he reminds us, does not prescribe church-state “separation.” It prescribes, rather, that Congress shall neither make a law respecting the establishment of religion (making one denomination the official or preferred denomination), nor make a law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Within that framework, Reverend Nelson notes, “Cooperation and interaction” do take place, what with churches being obliged to get building and signage permits from local governments, public authorities renting church spaces for voting and other secular purposes, churches renting school auditoriums for worship services, Congress and the Supreme Court opening their sessions with prayers, chaplains serving in prisons and military units at public expense, and our national motto being is “In God We Trust.” The Constitution, says the cleric, prohibits the removal of God from every aspect of life and forbids our government to be religious. Both restraints, he affirms, are good things. (Not addressed by Reverend Nelson: implications of churches' exemptions from property taxes, with attendant issues of deciding what qualifies to be classed as a “church”).

MURPHY DISSENTS. U.S. Rep. Scott Murphy, who won his special Congressional election battle here last April, was one of 39 Democrats who voted AGAINST their House leaders’ big health care reform proposal, which passed on Saturday by a vote of 220 (all Democrats plus one Republican) to 215. In voting Nay, Mr Murphy broke with all but two of his fellow Democrats from New York State (including the newly installed Bill Owens, victor in last Tuesday’s special election in the far-north 23rd district). The other dissenters were freshmen Eric Massa (29th District, in north country) and Michael McMahon (13th District, in Staten Island and part of Brooklyn). Mr Muphy’s rationale, as conveyed in a public statement (accessible on his official web site, , then click News Releases) dwells on “an unacceptably high price tag.” The bill

makes a number of important reforms, …including the elimination of the lifetime caps on insurance benefits and the pre-existing condition exclusion, invests in prevention and primary care, creates a health insurance exchange to force insurance companies to compete and offers a public option for people who want to get away from for-profit insurance companies.

----However, I have consistently said that any bill that Congress passes must curb costs and keep health care affordable in the long term. During these difficult economic times, an unacceptably high price tag will stress our already overstretched federal budget and place even more burdens on our hard working individuals, families and small businesses. We need to fix the system now, and not put off the hard choices for another generation. Furthermore, I am deeply frustrated by the last minute addition of over $50 billion in taxes on the two largest private employers in the 20th District – medical device manufacturers and paper mills.

----As a small businessman, I am also concerned that H.R. 3962 falls short of making health insurance affordable for the small businesses of the 20th District; it fails to reform the fundamentally flawed incentives in the system, which continue to drive costs upward; and it fails to restrain the monopolistic practices of private insurers, which allow them to continue to increase premiums already weighing on families and small businesses.

Most of Mr Murphy’s fellow Nay-voting Democrats represent “conservative” districts that had until recently been held by Republicans or that gave majorities to the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, in 2008. (For details, see The New York Times of Nov. 8). Also dissenting, however, was Rep. Dennis Kucinich. (For his rationale, see and News Release for Nov. 7)

-----Mr Murphy’s decision has triggered attacks from, from The Huffington Post, and from Citizen Action of New York, whose organizers planned to hold a protest rally on Thursday (11/12) outside Mr Murphy’s Clifton Park field office. The published protests so far have not addressed the terms of Mr Murphy’s explanation. PROTESTS against the State Government's recently enacted License Plate Reissuance Act take the form, in GreeneLand among other places, of petitions imputing to it economic hardship, "waste of natural resources" and incompatibility with the cause of having "a green environment." The Act mandates that when renewing two-year motor vehicle registrations, owners must buy new blue and gold license plates ($25, vs. $15 previously) and, if they want to keep an old plate's number, they must pay an additional $20. Moreover, up-State leaders damn the Act's discriminatory effect, since there are many more cars and pickups, per head of population, north of subway- and taxicab-rich New York City.

WEEKEND SPECIALS. On Friday night comes the opening gala for the Fortnightly Club’s annual Festival of Trees (at Anthony’s in Leeds; 943-2044). The festival (decorated Christmas trees and wreaths; crafts; gifts…) is open to the public over the weekend. “Santa Clause [sic] will be there too!” says the advertisement. On Saturday morning, at the Oak Hill-Durham Firehouse, an all-you-can-eat breakfast will be served in conjunction with a vintage snowmobile show and swap event (966-8628). On Saturday and Sunday, the Greene County Historical Society presents (at 11am, 1pm, 3pm) Chilly Willy Winter’s Eve tours of the Bronck Museum site (dwellings dating from 1663 and 1738 in Coxsackie), spiced with ancient legends and period Dutch refreshments; On Saturday night in Hunter, at the Catskill Mountain Foundation’s Doctorow Center, the Lyric Piano Quartet plays chamber music ( ) while in Catskill, at the Community Center, the Soup To Nuts troupe gives the opening performance of “Olive Cheritree,” a play about an Oak Hill-based landscape artist of the 19th century, and at the top of Main Street, in the BRIK gallery, from 7pm, lots of talent will be on show in support of our embryonic community radio station, WGXC.

ADVERTISED by a GreeneLand firm, on a Route 9W billboard: Our gift certificates are gift wraped! Not forcibly wraped, then.

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