How Many Employees Does it Take?

December 13, 2009

While Buffalo Pundit chastises the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation for lack of strategic foresight in its lending practices, I found today’s article on the BERC disappointing for a wholly different reason:

-It takes 25 employees to administer about a loan a month.

Six-sigma lean it ain’t.

Advertisements

Whiteout Conditions

December 10, 2009

On a day when they closed all area schools; and the winds gusted to over 50 mph; when the Weather Channel warned of a bitter cold weather pattern expected to last all day; with the possibility of 6 to 10 inches of snow in the Southtowns and more in the Southern Tier, my normal 30 minute commute to work took me…40 minutes.

How long did it take you?


Open Letter to NY Assemblyman Quinn

November 21, 2009

Dear Assemblyman Quinn,

I want to thank you for your 18 November response to my recent email regarding my opposition to balancing the 2010 budget with additional fees and taxes. While you explained to me your stance on the original budget as well as the upcoming mid-year adjustments, you did not seem to appreciate the frustration and anger that many of my colleagues and I have with you and your fellow legislators. Perhaps I did not elucidate this well in my email; perhaps you merely replied with a form letter. One thing, however, is clear:

You do not understand what we are angry about.

We are angry at you – the collective you – because you cannot get beyond the side of the aisle on which you find yourself. It doesn’t matter to which party you belong: Your actions are those of children in a schoolyard, taking sides but never reaching across to resolve the differences.

Your letter contained many promises and calls to action. Nothing in it, however, spoke of the need to reach across that aisle to address New York’s problems in a bipartisan manner; nothing spoke of doing the Peoples Business. Instead you emphasized your frustrations with the Democrats, and the us versus them mentality that pervades the legislature.

Your letter was full of bellyaches and personal accomplishments, but no mention the word bipartisan. Not a single sentence spoke of collegiality or a sense of urgency. You are quite eloquent at placing blame on the Democratic Party, not so articulate at offering an olive branch. You don’t seem to get it: We are angry at you because you are all to blame.

You – the collective you – need to get beyond your rhetoric in a hurry, for the sake of this state and for your jobs. I for one remain unconvinced that you and your fellow legislators deserve another term. Without seeing real bipartisan action in the near future I intend to join the rapidly-growing ranks of those determined to help vote you out of office. You demonstrate by your words and collective (in)action that we no longer have anything to lose by throwing the bums out.

One final point: What happens behind those closed doors in Albany may be deemed progress by the few of you privy to the inner sanctums. But the perception out here is one of shady deals, power grabs and chaos; the perception is that it’s all about you, not your constituents. You have scarce time left to change that perception.

Here’s a suggestion: Reach across the aisle with this letter. Let your Democratic colleagues know that as many voters are gunning for their jobs as yours. Then offer that olive branch.

Best Regards.


Extreme Makeover – The Aftermath

November 18, 2009

Mayor Brown would be smart to distance himself from taking any credit for the success that Extreme Makeover brought to Buffalo’s Massachusetts Avenue neighborhood.  Instead, he should cite this as an example of what can be accomplished when everyone works together for the betterment of a neighborhood.  He’d be way ahead if he uses his political clout to help sponsor and organize Extreme Makeover, Part II – XYZ Neighborhood.  I think any area around Jefferson and Best would do just nicely.

Someone asked about the tax liability that Delores Powell will have on her new home.  Rest assured that the producers of Extreme Makeover don’t leave that open-ended.  Essentially, they got the city to agree never to raise the assessed value of Delores’ property so long as she owns it.  What Extreme Makeover did was lease the house for two weeks from Delores, so that they could renovate it under leaseholder improvement provisions.  There is even a federal provision nicknamed the Extreme Makover Loophole that Congress passes every year, just so these guys on ABC can do what they do.

I’m not sure how New York State sees this but I wouldn’t be surprised it sends Ms. Powell some kind of tax bill for imputed income.  It is New York State, after all.

It’s a wonder that this Extreme Makeover segment even happened.  When the producer first went to City Hall with the schedule, some of the first words out of the Municipal Housing Authority were “It’s not gonna happen by those dates” to which the producer said “We’ve done 168 homes throughout the country so far; do you really want to be known as the first city that couldn’t accommodate the schedule?”  The permits were put into place shortly thereafter. 

This is yet another example of the territorial nature of our local government.  I’m happy that clearer heads prevailed and if Mayor Brown had something to do with this, then good for him.  Rather than embrace Extreme Makeover and its potential for great intentions and even greater PR, some clown in City Hall decides to throw his weight around.  The issue of little duchys permeates across Western New York govenment and grows by example, starting with our political leadership.  How do we ever change something so ingrained as this?

Buffalo needs more Extreme Makeovers.  What a great way to bring out the best and show the rest of the world why we so rightly deserve the title “City of Good Neighbors”.


The Paladino/Rudnick Battle

August 26, 2009

Part 4:  So Where Does that Leave Rudnick and the Partnership?

I’m a member of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership for the networking aspect; it gets me in front of people whom I would otherwise not get the opportunity to meet.  Some will argue that this benefit is not worth the dues one must pay to be a member and that’s a fine argument.  For now though, I’ll continue to pay my dues.

In addition to networking the BNP has (if I may paraphrase from their website) three other goals:

  • Support of business growth
  • Business services
  • Political advocacy

The third item has always been controversial as not all members may think like Carl Paladino or I do, putting the Partnership in a position where virtually any political advocacy in which they engage is bound to alienate some of their members.

I am in full agreement that the BNP (and all Chambers of Commerce in WNY) need to recalibrate, but replacing its leadership with someone who fits Carl Paladino’s expectations is no different than what Tom Golisano is doing to the State Senate, and likely to result in as much chaos as construction.

I think that if you’re going to work in both the community and in the political realm, diplomacy is of utmost importance.  Carl’s diplomatic efforts are, well, erratic at best (and I wish I could emphasize how badly we need more people like Carl, if only he could color the arguments in a more positive way).  He sees the BNP, BNE and other local organizations as structures that are in such bad shape that they must be plowed under and rebuilt from the ground up.

I think that Andrew Rudnick’s public persona is one of civility and diplomacy.  But what he also does behind the scenes matters, especially if he is not following the Partnership Board’s directives.  This is important:  Corporate leaders are beholden to their boards, not the other way around.

Should Rudnick go?  A friend of mine suggested that all public leaders be subject to term limitations.  I find that term limits have merit as long as they don’t apply to me or anyone else doing a spectacular job in his/her position; fans of Rudy Giuliani would agree as well.

Boards remove their executives when they fail to accomplish the board’s strategic directives.  If the Board decided that the Partnership should recommend voting against every incumbent next November (I hope I hope I hope), and Rudnick fails to execute, then that’s grounds for dismissal.  If the Board decides to take less provocative or behind the scenes approaches and Andrew complies, then he’s doing his job.  If the CEO is doing as the Board wishes then the CEO is doing his job.  Paladino is screwing up the chance to foment real change because he’s shooting at the wrong target.  If he doesn’t like what Rudnick is doing he should focus his attention at the Board.

But really, when it comes to Upstate success stories I can’t think of a single organization (and I’ve been thinking about this for well over a month) that stands out as having produced major, consistent results over the past 15 years, the Partnership included.  And by major I mean consistently media-grabbing.  In that regard, even Carl has only his Thruway toll initiative to brag about; what else has he done that has made a real difference for the community?

This is in no way meant to impugn Carl; indeed, in private he seems extraordinarily gracious and charitable, and I suspect he has impacted this area in many small ways, as has the BNP, the BNE, Catholic Charities, UNYTS, the Red Cross and so many other organizations.  The problem is that none of us are creating blockbuster initiatives with major, consistent impact; and none of our very worthwhile behind-the-scenes activities will ever make the press.

Maybe it’s because we can’t create those initiatives.  Short of taking up arms – short of a revolution – none of us, collectively or otherwise, can make a revolutionary difference given the political structure of our city, county and state governments.

So that leaves an evolutionary approach, a strategy that the BNP appears to be addressing at least as well as any other group.  I don’t think replacing Andrew Rudnick is an agent of change any more than I think creating a new chamber of commerce would be an agent of change.

In summary: Two polarizing figures, two different approaches, neither one visibly successful on a regular basis but striving for the same thing.

They’d be so much more effective if they’d figure out how to work together.

The End.


The Paladino/Rudnick Battle

August 24, 2009

Part 3:  The Partnership, and the Paladino – Rudnick Love Affair

I mentioned in Part 1 of this blog post that the Buffalo Niagara Partnership offers its members some benefits that are informative and – in the case of the Movers and Shakers session with Senator Stachowski, highly entertaining.

Equally entertaining has been the recent media blitz headed by Carl Paladino to oust Andrew Rudnick as the head of the Partnership.  A quick review, according to the dozens of emails (53 actually, and counting) that Carl has sent to Partnership members past and current:

  • Andrew stinks at his job;
  • Andrew is a polarizing figure;
  • Andrew should resign;
  • Anyone on the Partnership Board of Directors who supports Andrew should resign;
  • If this doesn’t happen in 60 days (clock started June 10th, do the math) Carl will “…lead a concerted effort to form a new Chamber of Commerce to lead our community”.

I have lots of respect for Carl.  He’s a family man, passionate about Western New York and both times I’ve had the chance to talk with him he’s been cordial and even-tempered.  I’ve written of him in past posts and complimented him (sort of) in his quest for change within state government.  I think he’s a pretty cool guy, influential in the local area and keen on trying to make Buffalo a better place (within his lifetime; pretty far-fetched, no?)

But he’s also acting like a jerk, spitting venom and twisting reality with some numbers that I think he pulled out of some stinky orifice somewhere.  He would accomplish lots more if he’d can the bullshit and build consensus rather than further polarizing a polarized community.

The tone of Carl’s campaign goes beyond confrontational and would have better served the community had it focused on whether or not the Partnership is achieving its goals for the betterment of Western New York.  Instead it’s loaded with vitriol, supposition, lots of statistics (plenty of taint there) and loads of innuendo but not a lot of meat.  Questioning Rudnick’s role as CEO is one thing; blaming him for our dysfunctional city school system and lame politicians is a bit of stretch. That part I don’t get.

Many of the emails begin with Hey Andy.  This has become the campaign catchphrase.  The emails are hard to read not because of their rancor (they’re like a bad car accident; you know you shouldn’t slow down and look, still you must) but because they are replete with bad grammar and even worse spelling.  Carl should hit the spell-checker button now and then; really, it would help a lot, especially coming from an executive as high up the ladder as Carl.  Okay, this is selfish motivation on my part:  I want my kids left with the impression that it takes more than grade school mastery of spelling to achieve greatness, just so they stay in school!

Rudnick isn’t biting, at least not yet.  The Partnership’s board so far has taken the high road and delivered responses that are both cordial and boring, not at all controversial enough for media attention.  You know that full-page ad the Partnership put in the newspaper a few weeks ago?  I suggested that they proactively put in some catchphrases of their own, be creative and grab people’s attention in the first three sentences, maybe cut through the storm clouds with some sharp wit.  They opted for maturity – thoughtful but bland – not something that would draw media attention unless they paid for it.

In the midst of Carl’s Hey Andy emails was one regarding Uniland’s successful attempt to get state subsidies for its development of the Avant building, and how unfair that was to all us taxpayers and to businesses like his own “…that…have to go to bankrupcy [sic][you know you shouldn’t look but you must] court to address our mistakes or incompetence”.  But Carl forgot to mention that his own company got an Empire Zone extended so he could place high-priced condominiums in it, saving him close to $1 million in sales taxes.  The hypocrisy spoke volumes and made me realize that cronyism is a personal failing only when it’s being painted on someone else.

Rudnick and the Partnership have said little in response to this or other Paladino emails.

Gary Burns from Buffalo Business First asked Carl what he would do to fix things around here.  Carl’s responses followed an interesting pattern:  Repeal this law, Remove that politician, Close those schools, Allocate money to Western New YorkThese are great ideas, and I am behind Carl all the way! And I’ll bet Andrew Rudnick would think these are great ideas too!  If only Carl were King of New York so he could implement these changes at will but he’s not so these solutions are nothing more than the same wistful thoughts all of us have.  Without going through the glacially slow and Carl-incompatible approach of working with the existing political structures, these changes will not occur, regardless of who is running the Partnership, the BNE or any other well-meaning organization, for that matter.

The problem with this battle is that it’s all Carl, yelling and screaming, demanding and getting media attention, throwing down the gauntlet and providing non-solutions while the Partnership and Rudnick try to take the high road and not settle into tit-for-tat trench warfare.  So you get this one-sided view of things which is tainted with opinion and innuendo dressed up as facts, when it didn’t need to be.

Yet Carl has a legitimate case.  Andrew Rudnick’s been a polarizing figure within an organization whose issues and opinions run the gamut from ultra-conservative to the radical left.  He and the Partnership can’t so much as sneeze without pissing off someone in that broad-spectrum constituency.  Carl should have kept it professional and leveraged concerns for Rudnick’s leadership into a more polished package, one that might have garnered both respect and influence from inside the Partnership board.  That he didn’t makes it all the harder to be an instrument of change but easy to be one of derision.  As a Partnership Board member and a corporate manager I find it hard to comprehend why Paladino would not try to maintain a professional mannerism on such a critical issue.  That he didn’t do this is a disappointment, and an impediment to progress.  As a successful business leader he knows darn well that the Partnership’s effectiveness comes down to the same questions asked of any organization:

  • What are its goals?
  • How well is it achieving these goals?
  • How can the leadership facilitate achieving these goals?

I’m afraid that if I joined Carl’s Let’s Fire Andy crusade that I would be sorely disappointed the moment I disagreed with the direction that Carl takes his version of a Buffalo Chamber of Commerce, for it is clear from his emails that it’s Carl’s way or the wrong way:  In essence, he evokes the same attitude for which he is criticizing Rudnick.

And in spite of all the media attention, Carl is a one-trick pony:  He got the toll barriers removed.  Anything else?  Nothing comes to mind.  That he is a polarizing influence – without a really great track record – in a community that has been incredibly polarized for two generations does not convince me that he could do any better at running a chamber of commerce than Rudnick has done.

Next Up:  So where does that leave Rudnick and the Partnership?


Bill Stachowski Meets His Constituents, Part Deux

August 23, 2009

Part 2:  Why 62 Senators Stood Pat for 2 Months NOT Doing the People’s Business.

Bill Stachowski

Senator Bill Stachowski spent an hour and a half with about 25 members of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership last Thursday.  His introductory remarks focused on why he voted for the 2010 state budget.  In summary:

  • The governor’s office gave them little to work with;
  • Legislative rules prevented them from making wholesale changes;
  • The state senate was forced to re-insert necessary expenditures that the governor’s office removed;
  • The other side refused to deal with this mess last year.
  • Voting YES was the lesser of two evils;

I’m glad he was able to deflect blame away from the Democrats; otherwise he would have had to implicitly blame my Democratic-leaning friends who voted for him.  Luckily, there were plenty of other entities with which he could spread fault for this fiscal mess.  This was a practice session:  I’m sure that next year during the election season he’ll find even more scapegoats and not-for-the-people public officials to impune.

But I was interested in learning more about the recent two-month-long senate stalemate, so during the Q&A I asked this question:

“There were 62 senators who – to a person – decided that allegiance to the Party was more important than the people’s business.  Why, to a person, is the Party so much more important than your own constituency?”

Stachowski got clearly irritated and trampled on the last word of my question to blurt out

“You’ve got it all wrong”

At which point some guy to my right shouted out “That’s bulls**t, that’s exactly what it was”.

Stachowski and the guy, and the guy next to him went back and forth for what seemed to be an uncomfortably long time but was probably just a few seconds.  I didn’t really mean to cause a ruckus, I just wanted an answer to a question that’s been on my mind since June.

“Our side offered 15 different resolutions to solve the impass.  The other side rejected all of them.”

He proceeded to explain the compromises that the Democrats offered the other side about power sharing, each party submitting bills on alternate days and some other measures to break the impasse.  He was clearly irritated but not belligerent.  I think it was because I distracted him from the roll he was on with the budget, with all that smugness because he could throw out jargon and policy-ese and bill-ese that only those in the know, like him, could comprehend.  The 31-31 impasse was clearly not something he wanted to talk about and he did so in a more curmudgeonly manner than on budget questions.

He never did answer my question though.  It is clear that neither he nor anyone else in the senate thought that crossing party lines was a solution.  I learned a lesson here, that someday, if I really want to wield power, I should join a political party so they can tell me exactly how I should wield it.  Yesiree, I’ll take my marching orders from the Party!

Stachowski is betting that by next November we voters will have forgotten about this rotten budget and the senate impasse.  Brian Sampson of Unshackle Upstate is betting that our state politicians’ collective behavior will not be forgotten.  Unshackle plans to be highly visible during the 2010 elections reminding the voting public how political spinelessness and Party allegiance above all else got us to where we are today.  Stachowski on the other hand has $4 million in legislative pork to spend on his constituency in order to buy their votes and make them forget.  Ah, pork:  a most potent amnesiac.

Back to the budget.  Brian pointed out that with 38 million people, California’s state budget topped off at $91 billion.  New York – with half that population – has a $132 billion budget.  Here’s what the burden per person looks like:

NY-Calif per capita burden, 2010

Brian also spoke of the state pension hole that will force dramatic tax increases in 5 years as state employees retire en masse (and move to Florida where the New York State legislature has much less authority).  Stachowski brushed it off as an accounting trick, that in reality the hole doesn’t exist.  This article begs to differ.  I beg to differ too.  In fact, I begged to differ with almost everything Stachowski said.  It would have been refreshing to have him even hint that New York State is out of control both fiscally and politically, but it didn’t happen.

Sampson was impressive in his ability to keep a straight face while Stachowski spoke.  When it came to credibility there was no contest.  When it came to having to feign respect, there was also no contest.  Both speakers get one point each.

I have to compliment Senator Stachowski for his willingness to sit in front of us and provide justification for political decision-making that clearly no one in the room believed was justifiable and then repeat that process time after time in front of various audiences.  It takes a real belief in the system and a really thick skin to do this, or else abject stupidity.  I’m not sure which camp he belongs to.

Next Up:  The Partnership, and the Paladino – Rudnick Love Affair