Friday, May 3, 2013

VOTERS DENIED THEIR VOICE

With all the furor over "three men in a room" in Albany deciding things for all residents of the state, I can't believe the people are sitting for this case of seven board members deciding the future of two school districts without taking it to the residents' vote.

The scene is the Stockbridge Valley and Madison Central School districts in Central New York, where a three member advisory committee of former superintendents from across the state plus a few dozen local residents recently spent countless hours and who knows how many state-funded dollars devising a plan for a theoretical merged district combining academic offerings and student and faculty populations of both. 


I had the pleasure of covering the first of two information sessions, as the advisors released their projections to the public at the Madison school ( see  http://www.uticaod.com/mid-yorkweekly/x2082719178/Roadmap-to-possible-MCS-SVCS-merger-revealed for the full story) and was impressed by the work that went into the research. The three advisors stressed repeatedly that they were neutral on whether or not the merger was beneficial to the districts, telling the residents it should be up to them to decide that.


It was announced the next step would be a vote by the respective boards of education whether they wanted to take the prospect to the voters in each district, and I was even more impressed when MCS board of education member William Langbein stood before the audience to then and there reveal his intention to send the decision to the residents, as he felt it was not a decision their board should make for them.


The MCS board of education agreed unanimously 6-0 with him at their vote.


That same input was not welcomed from residents of the SVCS district, however, as their board voted 4-3 at their April 30 meeting to kill the prospect before it went further. You can read editor Carolyn Godfrey's story on that decision here:

http://www.uticaod.com/mid-yorkweekly/x1506803180/No-SVCS-MCS-merger

So, thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of work just went down the drain. I'm not saying the merger was a good or bad idea, but at the very least that should have been brought to the tax payers for their say, yes or no. It's their district too, and the merger feasibility study wouldn't have been done if there weren't financial concerns that needed to be addressed.


I applaud the Madison Central School's board of education for their intentions to take it to their folks, though. That's the way things should be done ... they are representatives of the residents of the district, and should take into consideration the will of those residents by hearing their concerns through a vote. SVCS residents, unfortunately will never have that voice, and now neither will the MCS families, because four persons destroyed what took so many hours to create. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A TAXING EXPERIENCE

It was inevitable as death and taxes, and this year figuring my income taxes nearly meant the death of me.

OK, maybe that's a little too extreme, but it was pretty tense there for a bit as the accounting software initially rejected my daughter as a dependent. That meant not only losing her deduction but also the college credit I was expecting -- bumping me up to owe $2,000 more than I thought I would. Ouch! It's been nearly 20 years of constant outpouring of cash, even more so now that she's in college. She's definitely a dependent, Mr. IRS.gov.

Luckily, whatever I did wrong was soon changed -- although the tax forms still say she was convicted of felony drug possession but I think that is an easy fix (unless she really was convicted of felony drug possession ... darn college kids!). I figured how much I will owe come April so I can plan on having the funds available. I'm not dumb enough to send it in now, though. Let 'em wait.

Yeah, I said "owe." I'm watching all the people around me getting their refunds like it is a big windfall, and I can't help but wonder what they think that refund is benefiting them. Isn't that your own money the government has had for months while you could have been earning interest? Aren't you actually losing money by getting a refund?

I opt for paying a little at the end of the year. Unfortunately, New York State felt my "little" was excessive and fined my $29 for owing too much, but still that's a small price to pay for having access to my own cash.

Anybody else have a fun, or not so fun, income tax story to tell?

Friday, November 9, 2012

WHEN WILL THIS BE OVER?

I don't think I've ever seen so many viscous attacks during an election season as I did this year -- and most of them were not from any candidate but supporters airing their views on Facebook.

Maybe it's just because I wasn't on Facebook during the last presidential election, but I was stunned at how vindictive the postings became, especially towards the end. And it wasn't by any one side; people of both parties in the election were just as adamant that their candidate was the one to save the earth while his opponent was the one who would destroy it.

I can see having a passion towards the person you support in an election, but seriously I can't imagine why anyone would feel they need to make such nasty and often personal attacks on people who don't agree with them. Isn't that what America is all about? The freedom to have your own opinion? I felt like posting the number of Facebook friends I had and then announcing who I voted for, just so everyone could watch the number dwindle as I was un-friended by people who voted contrary to me.

So the election has come and gone, and I'm figuring the vitriol will come to an end. Wrong! Now the posts are starting that it's time to flee the country before it's too late and how the end is near. And those are two of the nicer things that were posted.

Can't we just all get along and work for the common good? Or is that something that has been lost in this time of Internet turmoil?


Thursday, October 11, 2012

KNOW YOUR ROLE

There's probably nothing that perturbs me more professionally than when someone insists I should do a big expose article on some scandal.

Mainly because anyone thinking I'd be interested in relating such a thing has obviously never actually read any of my stuff.

Political discord? School administration salaries? Governmental shenanigans? Drugs in the water? Sure, there's plenty there you can probably get steamed over. But that's not my thing -- I see my role as the opposite of the conveyor of the bad news. I want to bring to light the good news as much as possible instead.

There's certainly enough people who excel at reporting the bad news ... the world doesn't need me to do that.

It isn't always easy to be on this mission. Sometimes when I'm looking for stories while laying out the wire service pages in the paper there isn't a lot offered by the Associated Press with anything good to say. Often I have to come up with five or six different ways to say someone is dead just so all of the headlines on a single page have varied terminology if not a varied theme. Many of the pages lately have made me queasy with the abundance of vile news, and if you think the news that is printed is bad, you should read the stuff we don't put in because of our all-ages audience.

Obviously, it is the bad news that attracts people to read any paper. If there's a huge calamity I expect my stuff to be bumped for the hotter news, because I would make that decision to ax my stuff as well. Sales increase when there's a major disaster, and again I'm just as guilty because that's when I'm also more interested in reading the paper, too. It's like driving by the scene of a car crash -- you can't help but look. You probably aren't glad the crash happened, but at the same time find it oddly intriguing. Likewise, if you are reading a novel there's got to be some kind of a conflict or it will be pretty boring.

Luckily, the majority of our local stories are usually good news about good people. But once we get into the wire service accounts of the goings-on in New York City, Washington, and overseas that ratio is invariably skewed towards evil.

So in an effort to compensate for all of that bad news, I strive to relate the good news. That's what I perceive to be my role in the world.

It doesn't matter what you do, whether you write, build bridges, teach school, wait tables, or crunch numbers ... taking some time to define your own role is a great organizer and a great motivator to your own endeavors. Give it a try!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

LIVING THE BACHELOR LIFE

So I'm walking down the street yesterday not too far away from my new apartment, when my buddy stops his lawn mowing to strike up a conversation. We chit-chat for a couple of minutes and he asks how I like my new "bachelor pad," and I tell him it's fine. Then he gets all serious, and tells me how many people envy my freedom in being single -- and from his tone I'm thinking he might be near the top of the list himself.

I admitted that certainly there are moments when I might wish I had a significant other, but it doesn't take too long to look around and realize just how miserable many of the couples I know are in their lives. And if that alone doesn't make me feel better, I can always read the Annie's Mailbox column in the paper, because it is riddled with unhappy people who are battling spouses, ex-spouses, and in-laws.

Somebody I know just announced he was getting married -- for the third time. I think that after I touched that hot griddle and burned myself once, it was enough to discourage me from doing it ever again. Another friend spent most of the night last night waiting for her hubby to come home. That's not something I feel shows much self-respect, or respect for a spouse from the absent husband. I was at a small board meeting recently where all of us knew each other pretty well, and suddenly one of my compadres noted aloud how every one of the four of us around the table was divorced. The man and woman there who live together agreed they were never going to marry, because what was the point?

It seems marriage has become more a business for attorneys than a loving institution in this day and age. Living together without being married can actually be more of a sign of love because they are doing it because they want to, rather than because that wedding ring obligates it.

Sure, it would be great to be in love with a soul mate. But I'm sure not going to cry away the days looking for one. Plus hopefully I'm setting a good example for my daughters, showing them that they don't need a husband to complete them ... they just need to grow into the best people they can be first and to worry about becoming a couple second.

If it's meant to be, that's great. If it's not, then that's the way it's meant to be instead. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

TO 'FRIEND' OR NOT TO 'FRIEND' A LOST LOVE

Anybody who uses Facebook has inevitably stumbled -- or stalked -- across a special someone from the past who he or she would like to get in touch with again, but might feel a bit tepid about actually sending that friend request. It's a big step ... especially if you aren't sure that person wants to hear from you again.

I've been there several times, and most recently stalked -- I mean, stumbled -- onto my first love from way back when. There was a moment of indecision as I stared at the "send" button, recalling our breakup and whether or not it was one where we vowed never to speak to each other again. Luckily, I've never had such trauma. Most often we just go our separate ways without all the drama, for better or worse. Maybe it's just because I've never had a truly passionate relationship where the breakup is devastating; I don't know. Sometimes I wonder if I'm missing out on something, but maybe someday it'll happen.

So now I can say I am friends on Facebook with just about every girlfriend I've ever had and it's really not so bad. We "like" each other's photos and make comments on posts when the mood strikes, although there isn't too much reminiscing about the past. Actually, there hasn't been any reminiscing about the past. It was a little odd when one of my lost loves sent my daughter a friend request as well, though, but that's OK too.

Facebook offers the perfect buffer to keep those wounds from reopening -- a cyberspace bandage that maintains distance while allowing all parties to stay in touch. So, if you've ever sat there staring at that friend request button while perusing an old love's homepage, or sent the request and then wished you could get it back, I'm sure you are in good company. Excepting in cases where there is still a restraining order in place, I say to go for it.

The worst the recipient can do is block you from further contact. Or get another restraining order ...

Friday, March 16, 2012

CAN I HELP YOU ... GET A CLUE?!?!?

I always say after nearly three decades of working in retail, I am going to write a book about my adventures serving the public.

But, on the other hand, nobody would believe some of the stories I have to tell.

Working in a home center might seem mundane to people who have never done it -- certainly, nobody would consider it as exciting as my other career as a writer if they have never lived through a day at the store. Well, let me tell you, there are people who are ALIVE today because I happened to wait on them, and, most often, talk them OUT of doing the dangerous and potentially deadly projects they thought they had the know-how to do for themselves.

Take the person who came in for stove pipe the other day (OK, it was a woman, but whether a man or a woman doesn't necessarily mean the client knows what they are doing. I think the husbands send their wives in not so much because they are too busy at home working on the projects but because they have no idea what they are looking for themselves and don't want us to know). We sell stove pipe ranging in diameter from four to 12 inches and in both black and galvanized metal. I showed her to our display and figured it would be an easy sale, until I asked what she was using it for and she said to run natural gas to the stove.

Not what stove pipe is for, ma'am.

So I am preparing to hook her up with the right piping for natural gas over in the plumbing department with all of the proper accouterments, but when I ask what size fittings she needs she has no idea. A voice inside tells me this person is now heading for the award for being the most likely to meet her maker in a blazing fire ball. I recommend she finds out what fittings it'll take from the person doing the job, so she goes home to do more research.

But to prove I'm not being sexist and dogging women -- we certainly do welcome women to the store and will help as much as possible -- we'll take a look at the guy who was trying to find a circuit breaker the other day. He doesn't have an old one to match up (that would make it too easy) so I ask what amp size he is looking for, but he doesn't know that either. Than he asks what size he needs when the house wiring he installed is 22 gauge.

For the non-electricians out there, 22 gauge is so thin you could pretty much bite it apart. There hasn't been a home since Edison that was wired with 22 gauge wire. I ask if he's sure, he says yes, and I ask if maybe it might be the more popular, and a heck of a lot safer, 12 gauge wire, figuring the confusion stems from the fact that they both have a "2" in them. He said that might be what he used; he wasn't sure. I'm thinking here's another jack of all trades heading for a shocking experience.

Hey, I'm not about to stop helping the people out when it is a reasonable project for a reasonable person. But when someone is wiring their house with dental floss or running gas through anything other than factory approved piping, I figure the best way to do the job safely is to hire it out. That expense is a small price to pay compared to the price of a new home, or paying for that hospital stay. And just because someone saw the project done on TV doesn't make him or her an expert.

I can't tell you how many times someone has held up the line at the register because he or she left the money in the car.  Or the people who ask me to mix the same color paint they got three years ago, and then get mad when I don't remember what it was. Or the times people come in to have something cut to size without bringing along their measurements.

Then there was the guy who cashed out, went into the parking lot, and came rushing back in to say someone stole his car while he was in the store. Luckily, the customer in line behind him was an off duty State Trooper, so he quickly radioed in the description of the vehicle and put out an all points bulletin. The local Thruway exit was the likeliest destination for a car thief, so he notified the Troopers there to keep an eye out for it. We were kind of excited in the store because it was like watching a cop show come to life.

Suddenly the guy peaked out the door, and sheepishly said, "Oh, I forgot; I parked on the other side of the lot this time."

Our Trooper buddy was really glad he stopped to shop that day.

To be fair, I'm sure there are plenty of places I shop where they look at me with bewilderment when I ask dumb questions. I have left my shopping list at home, and gone to stores without the proper measurements figuring I can eyeball things. Wrong! So out of my element I am just as clueless as anyone else. It certainly takes the pressure off having to know what I'm doing all of the time ... and I know I'm in good company thanks to my own experiences in customer service.

I even imagine some people leave the store after a discourse with me and say, "Boy, that guy was an idiot!"

To prove the point, and to show that just as I bust chops of others I can take the heat as well, here's a favorite moment that the rest of the crew likes to bask in every now and then. Some years back, my co-worker Pat was out of work for awhile so I decided to give her a call to cheer her up and let her know how much she was missed. I checked our master employee telephone list for her number, dialed, and when that computerized generic answering voice finished, left a flowery message to the extent of "Pat, we miss you and can't get along without you," or some such.

The next day I'm figuring this is likely good medicine for her, so I call again. This time, I say, "Pat, the place is falling apart without you -- get back here ASAP!" As the week went on, the messages got sillier, until the last one where I said, "Pat, we miss you and love you! We can't survive without you!"

I hadn't heard anything back during the week I made the series of calls, but I just figured she was busy. Then, as I was ringing up a sale on the cash register, the phone rings and a guy asks for me. Since we were short-handed, I attempted to complete the sale while talking to the guy. But I lost my concentration on the sale at hand when he suddenly asks why I've been calling his son all week, why I keep asking the kid to come back when we fired him, and especially why I said I loved him.

It turned out the "Pat" on the phone list wasn't "Patricia," but "Patrick" -- a teen who we had recently let go because he was a slacker.

Try explaining that to an irate dad on the phone! Needless to say, there and then I decided anytime I get an answering machine that doesn't confirm it belongs to the person I'm calling, I don't leave a message...