Items tagged with 'civics'
Starting this week the Albany Police Department is participating in a national study that includes what's sort of like a customer satisfaction survey distributed to people who come into contact with the police department. We get the feeling it's kind like those "rate this experience" surveys that show up on receipts at retail stores and restaurants.
From an APD press release:
As police reports are filed, a letter will be sent to community members asking them to take a survey. The survey is available in Spanish and English and can be taken either online, or by telephone. The online survey can be accessed through a computer or by scanning a QR code with a smart phone or tablet device. The letters will include a special code needed to participate in the survey and ensure that only one survey is completed for each encounter. No one asked to participate in the survey should be concerned that the information could be used in other ways. None of the information will be collected by the Albany Police Department since all survey responses will be managed by the [University of Illinois at Chicago] researchers. The results provided to the agency will not include any information identifying the individual responding to the survey or the officer involved in the contact. Police encounters that involve traffic accidents and stops, as well as most non-violent crimes, will be part of the survey. However, encounters that result from domestic violence, sexual assault, or juveniles will not be surveyed.
As the blurb notes, the surveys are part of an ongoing research project called the National Police Research Platform, which is based on at University of Illinois at Chicago. The APD's participation is part of a second phase for these community surveys that includes police and sheriff's departments across the country.
So why do this?
We were copied on this letter to the city of Albany from a 7-year-old girl who lives in uptown Albany. Here's the text (with a few copyedits):
Dear City of Albany
A water pipe was leaking so the construction men needed to dig a hole in our street and then they re-paved it but they left a pothole. Why it is a problem I was running on my street and it was really dark and I didn't see the pothole right in front of me so I ran right into it and my knee was bleeding and I can't do gymnastics or soccer because of it. I would like you to re-pave that pothole so that won't happen to me again or my brother or if my new neighbors have kids it won't happen to them. Thank you, Amy [last name]
Wait until this kid starts using that SeeClickFix app. Or shows up during the public comment period at a Common Council meeting.
A full image of the letter is after the jump.
The Troy Police Department unveiled a new online crime map for the public today. From the press release:
With the exception of crimes related to domestic incidents and sexual assaults, all reported crime in our city will be mapped with a built in 72 hour posting delay. The delay is designed to give Investigators a "first look" at an incident and apply any limitations they see fit specifically relevant to their investigation. Once mapped, the information remains embedded in the mapping, subject to numerous choices the user can make; eg. date range, type of crime, etc. Previously noted exceptions to the mapping will always be subject to inclusion should a public safety need to post the incident be evident.
This is a good step, as we've said a bunch of times before, it'd be great to see other local municipalities head in this direction.
A few more quick thoughts:
This Saturday at Russell Sage College: The second annual New York State Neighborhood Revitalization Conference. Event blurbage:
The purpose of our conference is to bring together neighborhood activists, educators, business people, and elected officials to share successes and develop strategies to maintain healthy and vibrant neighborhoods throughout Upstate New York. As residents and businesspeople, we believe that the strength of our past and our diversity in people, cultures, and businesses, will enable us to make our neighborhoods destinations to live, work, and visit.
Scanning through the list of conference workshops, it looks like there are a bunch of interesting people who are doing interesting things. Among the presenters: Abby Lublin from Troy Compost, Laban Coblentz from Tech Valley Center of Gravity, and Anasha Cummings from Project Nexus.
The conference starts at 8 am Saturday (September 21) and wraps up around 5 pm. Registration is $25 / $10 for students.
New York once again ranked as the least "free" state in the nation, in the Mercatus Center's new "Freedom in the 50 States" report (Mercatus is a "market-oriented" think tank at George Mason University). The Empire State was last in 2011. And 2007. And 2001.
New York is "by far the least free state in the Union," according to the report. The state gets dinged for, well, pretty much everything: taxes, spending, regulation. Among the rare positives identified by the report: "better than average" marijuana laws, low alcohol taxes, and eventually same-sex marriage (the report only covers policy to the end of 2010).
Oh, and NYS ranks #32 in the "bachelor party" category, which "combines a variety of laws including those on alcohol, marijuana, prostitution, and fireworks" (sadly, there's no indication the category covers laws regarding coke-snorting donkeys).
Freedom is, to some degree, in the eye of beholder. And here is how the Mercatus Center beholds it. Slate's Matthew Yglesias offers a rather different view, arguing that the concept of freedom needs to be salvaged "from the wreckage of Mercatus."
The top five states for freedom, according to Mercatus, are (from the top): North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma. The least free (descending): Rhode Island, Hawaii, New Jersey, California, New York.
map: Mercatus Center
"Open data" refers to data that is free from restrictions and can be released in a format that can be retrieved, downloaded, indexed, and searched by commonly used web search applications. Open.ny.gov provides unprecedented "open data" access and transparency to the wealth of information collected and maintained by our state and local governments. It allows researchers, citizens, business, and the tech community direct, centralized access to high-value government data to search, explore, download, and share.
Among the first of a small group of local municipalities to participate (at least in a limited way): the city of Albany.
We have to admit that when we saw the press release, we didn't have high hopes. You know, it sounded good -- but stuff like this often falls flat.
But after checking it out this afternoon, there might be something to this...
A lot of Capital Region politicians are currently missing their hats because they've thrown them in to some ring or the other. That's what happens when a lot of incumbents decide not to run. The result: some very long slates for offices.
Something that might help you narrow the field: seeing the candidate for a race in person in one place. There are a bunch of chances this week (listed post jump). Bring a scorecard.
The Cuomo admin announced this week that the state DMV now offers online voter registration. And if you're already registered, you can also now update your voting address or party affiliation online, too.
From the Cuomo admin press release (link added):
The DMV processes roughly 300,000 motor voter applications a year. This is currently a cumbersome and time-consuming manual process, where drivers fill out paper forms at one of 129 DMV branches, which then have to be sorted and mailed by hand to one of the county boards of elections. This process is prone to human error, delays and, in some cases, to applications not getting processed.
It says New York State ranks 47th in the nation in voter registration -- less than 64 percent of eligible residents are registered to vote.
Earlier on AOA: New York State ranked last in voter turnout (2010)
Earlier this year I served on an Albany County grand jury. I had been dreading the experience -- one day a week for eight weeks was going to be a huge pain because of the work disruption. After it was over, though, I was glad to have served. In fact, I think everyone should serve on a jury at least once. It will make you see the world a bit differently.
You might have seen Kristi's post about serving on a grand jury. I can't say my experience was as dramatic -- no annoying fellow jurors, no exploding assistant district attorneys -- but it did leave an impression.
Here are a handful of things have stuck with me from the experience...
Under the new lines, the Capital Region is now spread over three districts: NY 19 (currently Chris Gibson), NY 20 (currently Paul Tonko), and NY 21 (currently Bill Owens). There's some significant reorganization, especially in the core of the area -- the cities of Albany, Saratoga Springs, Schenectady, and Troy are now in the same district (they had been split between districts represented by Tonko and Gibson).
The New York Times has posted a very good interactive map comparing the new and old districts.
All the new maps from the federal judges are embedded after the jump.
A project called the "State Integrity Investigation" has released report cards for each state's "corruption risk." And, surprise (not really), New York State scored poorly.
The project is a collaboration between The Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity, and Public Radio International. The scores were determined by journalists in each state based on a set of 330 question (apparently not among the questions: "Are bills passed by sleep-deprived legislators in the middle of the night?). In New York, the journalist was the Gotham Gazette's David King.
New Jersey was the top-ranked state (87%, B+), Georgia was the lowest (49%, F).
I love people-watching. Some days it's the only reason this introvert can tolerate being anywhere near other people. Human behavior is an endless source of mystery and entertainment to me, and because we tend to be creatures of habit, complete strangers can feel just as familiar as the places we frequent.
For me, one of those people was Marcia Pascarella.
AOA readers may remember Marcia as the inspiration for my "Stop whining and do something about it" Soapbox last March. Marcia was my favorite person to see approaching the podium at Troy City Council meetings. She never held back, always spoke her mind, and possessed the type of humor and natural comedic timing that usually left you wondering whether or not she actually meant to be funny. I think she did. Marcia was not known for political correctness. Sometimes she even swore at these meetings -- which are currently held IN A CHURCH. Oh, Marcia.
I learned of Marcia's passing from Jim Franco, who wrote that he'd heard that "God had taken His own name in vain" upon Marcia's arrival at the Pearly Gates.
I don't doubt this report one bit; heaven better be everything she expects it to be!
There was many as 60,000 votes tossed in the 2010 election New York because of "overvotes" -- that is, people filled in too many ovals on their ballot -- according to a report from the Brennan Center. The report's authors figure that 20,000 voters in the state didn't have their vote for governor count because of an overvote problem.*
From the report's executive summary:
In modern history, New York has never seen so many lost votes due to overvoting. Unlike the new optical scan voting system, New York's old lever machines did not allow overvoting. But even so, the numbers of lost votes due to overvoting in 2010 were far greater than they should have been. Overvotes are almost always unintentional. A well-functioning voting system, even one that includes optical scan equipment, should have overvote rates very close to zero. ...
Black and Hispanic voters were at least twice as likely to lose votes due to overvoting as non-Hispanic whites. Shockingly, in two Bronx election districts, nearly 40 percent of the votes cast for governor were voided as overvotes.
The Brennan Center, and other good government groups, have argued that the error messages returned by machines for overvotes are hard to understand -- because of jargon such as "overvote" or a confusing user interface -- and as result, people don't realize they've made an error, or can't understand how to fix it. Proposed solution: change the error messages to plain language such as: "you have filled in too many ovals."
The full report is embedded after the jump.
* Not that this would have affected the outcome. Even if they were all Paladino voters, Andrew Cuomo would have still had about a 1.3 million vote lead.
A few figures from Citizen's Union's recent report on gerrymandering in New York State and what the org says is the resulting "pernicious decades-long erosion of our state's democracy and governance":
+ 96 percent of incumbents in the state legislature have been re-elected since 2002
+ the average margin of victory in contested races last year: 51 percent
+ 19 percent of general election state races were uncontested in 2010
map: NYS LATFOR
Tuesday was, of course, Election Day -- and for the third time in 12 years, I did not vote.
The first time I didn't vote was 1999. I turned 18 on October 3, was a freshman in college and was overwhelmed and misinformed about where to vote. The second time was in 2003. I had just moved to a new town and registered when changing my drivers license. The registration was never processed.
But this year, my absence from the polls was an active choice.
Albany 2030, the effort to develop a comprehensive plan for the City of Albany, released a draft of the plan this week. The "guide for the management of change" (or "a 'to do' list" for the city) is long, really loooong. The pdf is 272 pages.
Who would ever read through the whole thing? Uh, well... that would be us.
The draft plan mostly covers general goals, things like promoting economic development and increasing transit options. But it also includes specifics, some of which are worthwhile but still kind of oddly specific (example: incentives to increase the use of rain barrels).
If we had to distill the whole document down to one sentence, it would be, in our own words (deep breath):
Albany aims to become a prosperous, diverse, well-educated, safe city, ready for climate change, with a mixed-use downtown and neighborhood centers, where people walk more and drive less.
But there's a lot more to it. We've gone through the whole document and pulled a bunch of bits that we thought we were interesting and notable (with page numbers so you can reference the context).
A scannable list of those bits is after the jump.
The Albany metropolitan area ranks among the most "resilient" metros in the nation, according to rankings out this week from researchers at the University at Buffalo. The Albany metro ranked 48th out of 361 metros nationwide -- that's among the top 20 percent.
OK, so if you throw the Capital Region against a wall, it springs back? Sort of. Maybe.
From the Mercatus Center's Freedom in the 50 States:
New York is by far the least free state in the Union. It has also experienced the most interstate emigration of any state over the last decade. New York has by far the highest taxes in the country. Property, selective sales, individual income, and corporate-income taxes are particularly high. Spending on public welfare, hospitals, electric power, transit, employee retirement, and "other and unallocable" expenses are well above national norms. Only Alaska has more government debt as a percentage of the economy. On personal freedoms, gun laws are extremely restrictive, but marijuana laws are better than average, while tobacco laws are extremely strict, and cigarette taxes are the highest in the country. Motorists are highly regulated, and homeschool regulations are excessive, but nondrug victimless-crimes arrests are low. New York has the strictest health-insurance community-rating regulations in the country, which have wiped out the individual market. Mandated coverages are worse than average but were actually cut back substantially in 2007-2008. Eminent domain abuse is rampant and unchecked. Perversely (in our view), the state has stricter contribution limits for grassroots PACs than for corporate and union PACs. On the positive side, occupational licensing is somewhat better than average.
The report includes some recommendations on how the Empire State can loosen the bonds of imperial tyranny. Among them: legalize same-sex marriage.
Of course, freedom is a subjective thing to some degree. For example: you can't smoke in restaurants here, which you could say is restricting freedom -- but if you're a non-smoker, that also means you don't have to suffer the consequences of someone else's decision (which smells a bit like freedom). The report's authors describe how they define freedom (Locke is mentioned prominently -- no, not the Lost character).
A different approach might have been to look at another thing economists love to talk about: tradeoffs. What do we get for trading some of these freedoms? Is it enough?
The report's authors talk about how people could use the rankings to make choices about where to move. So, what are the most free states? The top 5: New Hampshire (no surprise), South Dakota, Indiana, Idaho, Missouri. Uh, we're not packing the moving truck just yet.
But, yeah, the taxes in New York -- yow, TOO DAMN high.
Kirsten Gillibrand has been pushing the cause of open public data this week. The clip above is her presentation at the nerd-wonk Personal Democracy Forum on Monday -- she talked about her office's disclosure of schedules and earmarks and how's she's pushed for similar disclosure for all Congressional members.
KG also announced this week that she's co-sponsoring the "Public Online Information Act," a bill that would require public info to be made available online in a searchable format before it could be considered public.
It's good to see this kind of support for open data initiatives -- in the Information Age (or whatever you call right now), useful access to data generated by the government should be a civil right. But if KG and other open government people want to really shake things up, they'll push for the federal government (which has money) to help develop tools for local governments (which don't have money) to collect, manage and share public data. The state of access to local public data is currently underwhelming -- even for data that should be relatively easy to post. (When was the last time you searched crime reports online for your town -- oh, right, you probably can't.)
A few cities are already headed in this direction. New York City has made a big deal of it recently, releasing a "road map" toward becoming a "digital city." It's touting the push as a way of increasing civic engagement and economic development. (It already makes some data available via a "data mine.")
That kind of initiative is easier for a place like NYC -- it has a huge budget. The jump is much bigger for local municipalities that can't be even manage to consistently post their press releases online (nevermind in a format that's not pdf).
The push to allow backyard chickens in Albany came to an end Monday as an override attempt of the Jerry Jennings' veto failed to get enough votes in the Common Council .
Mike Guidice, who along with his wife Jen Pursley has been leading the chicken coalition, was disappointed -- and talking about what's next.
As you've probably heard, Jerry Jennings vetoed the Albany backyard chicken ordinance today (there is a whole bunch at that link).
A scan of some of the reaction on Twitter is after the jump.
It's worth nothing that the chicken coalition used Twitter as one its organizing tools, so it's probably not surprising a lot of the reaction there was pro-chicken. On the mayor's radio show this morning, a few people did express their opposition to the ordinance (and there was at least one supporter, too.).
We mention this because the perceived level of public support/opposition has become a big talking point on this issue. And while people have cited phone calls or neighborhood association votes or the ever popular "I've heard...", we haven't seen anything conclusive, yet. It'd be interesting if a polling org (hello, Loudonville) would survey this issue.
OK, on to the tweets...
Updated at 6:30 pm
Jerry Jennings announced today that he's vetoing the Albany backyard chicken ordinance.
The ordinance passed the Common Council by an 8-7 vote. It would take 10 votes to override the veto.
The mayor's office released a statement this afternoon explaining the veto. That -- and reaction -- is after the jump.
It's been six months since Jen Pursley and Mike Guidice had to give up their backyard chickens after someone complained to the city. And now they're on the verge of getting them back. Legally.
Monday night the Albany Common Council passed an ordinance that makes it legal to keep backyard hens in the city. But it was close.
All my life I've tried to steer as clear as possible from the political arena. But, the older I get, the more I see how government makes a difference in my everyday life. It would seem that politics has found me.
There's an old saying that laws are a lot like sausages -- no one wants to see how they're made. Sadly, I'm finding out just how true that saying is. The more I get involved in local government, the more frustrated I am.
The Brennan Center recently released a "report card on New York's civil literacy." Newsflash: it's low, in most of the way's you'd expect (nope, the President can't declare war; the founders weren't trying to found a Christian nation; the Constitution's goal wasn't to increase the power of the 13 original states).
But this bit made us take notice/wonder/laugh wryly: 58 percent of New Yorkers in the survey failed to name at least one of the two current New York members of the US Senate. As the report notes (emphasis added):
Respondents were not given any list to choose from, so they had no opportunity to guess or "refresh their recollection." Kirsten Gillibrand, New York's junior Senator, was appointed less than two years ago, after then-Senator Hillary Clinton was appointed Secretary of State. Senator Gillibrand had never previously run for statewide office, and the fact that her name wasn't widely known is not surprising. Chuck Schumer, though, has represented New York State since 1999 and is a major national player on the political stage. It is significant that so few New Yorkers were able to provide his name when asked, especially when we consider that both senators' names were on the ballot in the November 2010 elections and both were campaigning during the time the poll was conducted.
That's right, Chuck Schumer, who hasn't passed up an opportunity for a press conference -- ever* -- still not at the top of a majority of New Yorkers' minds.
It's worth noting that Schumer did get 65.5 percent of the vote in last year's election, so he's doing OK -- whether people remember his name or not.
The full Brennan Center report is embedded after the jump.
* Unconfirmed, but probably true.
The proposal to allow backyard chickens in Albany is moving on to a vote before the full Common Council.
The council's law, buildings and code enforcement committee voted 3-1 Thursday night to pass along the ordinance to the full council without a recommendation. "[The result] was better than we expected," said Michael Guidice, who's been leading the backyard chicken effort with his wife Jen Pursley (remember, it was their backyard coop that got this issue buzzing).
The vote came after some spirited clucking back and forth on the issue.
The City of Watervliet launched a new interactive map today that includes information about voting districts, trash pick up, neighborhoods, building outlines and other municipal bits. The 'Vliet is touting it as the first of its kind in the Capital Region.
It's a good start. The map scores points for being easy to use. And a lot of the info could be helpful. A few things it doesn't offer that would make it better: crime reports and the ability for city residents to add info and "tag" it to a place. (Also, the city's website appears to need some serious updating -- the city council hasn't had a meeting since December?)
Still, Watervliet now has one of the better municipal websites in the Capital Region. That isn't saying much -- most city/town websites in this area are just plain bad. Cities in other places are doing much better jobs. For example, NYC has been making use of 311 to gather info from residents. And Chicago posts crime incident reports online (which helped prompt the project that eventually became EveryBlock). Obviously, local municipalities don't have the same resources as those big cities. But maybe they can draw some inspiration. Public data belongs to all of us -- we should have access to it.
One small thing that local officials could do to extend a digital hand to constituents: start using Twitter -- and actually engage people that way. In Troy, it's not uncommon to see Harry Tutunjian respond to specific requests via Twitter. And in Albany, common councilwoman Leah Golby seems to be constantly dialoging with people via the service.
So the other day I was heading down Route 50 near Ballston when I saw the sign above.
I'd never seen one before -- and I wondered what it meant. I asked around -- but no one else I checked with seemed to know either. So I did a little digging.
It turns out it's a concept that's been around for awhile, and it's meant to preserve rural character and give farmers rights when new development moves in.
It's likely enacted in a town near you.
Even if you don't live near a farm it's interesting and worth understanding.
On Tuesday night a fire broke out at a home on Mohawk Road in Niskayuna. Fortunately no one was hurt, but the fire required 35 firefighters and five trucks to fight. Many of those working on the fire were volunteer firefighters, people with full-time jobs that don't involve fighting fires.
Outside of the Capital Region's cities, volunteers provide much of the fire coverage. The number of volunteer fire departments here is quite substantial: Albany County has 41, Rensselaer has 49, Schenectady has 22 and Saratoga has 45.
So, why does the Capital Region have so many volunteer departments? What kind of training is required to become a volunteer firefighter? And, how many fires do these departments end up fighting?
I spoke with a fire district chief and a volunteer firefighter to find out how it works...
New York State had 19,378,102 residents on April 1, 2010, according to data released by the Census Bureau today. That ranks the Empire State third overall among states for population.
New York was the third most-populous state during the 2000 decennial census, too. The state's population has grown by 401,645 people since then. But its slice of the nation's overall population declined in that time. In 2000, New York counted as 7 percent of the US population -- now it's 6 percent.
And, as expected, New York is losing two Congressional seats. After re-apportionment, the state will have 27 members of the US House. (A House seat will represent about 710,767 people this time around.)
The total national population was counted at 308,745,538. That's up 9.7 percent since 2000.
Tables with number candy are after the jump.
New York State had the lowest voter turnout in nation during this most recent election, according to figures compiled by the United State Election Project at George Mason University. Of people eligible vote (but not necessarily registered), only 32.1 percent showed up on Election Day (methodology).
The top five states -- and bottom five -- are after the jump.
The Empire State has done a bit better in recent years. During the 2008 election, the state ranked 42nd with 58.3 percent. And in the 2006 midterm election, the state again ranked 42nd on 34.9 percent participation.
Among the reasons offered by political scientists for New York's low turnout: uncompetitive races and a slow adoption of convenient voting options such as early voting.
[via NYT City Room]
You can probably guess what some of the top issues are. But we were a bit surprised by just how irked people seem to be by the screwed-up state of government.
Results and a few notes after the jump.
It's kind of funny to us that the Rent Is 2 Damn High Party gets its own line, but some of the other parties have to share.
Also, it was a little disappointing to find out the vaunted privacy sleeve is actually... a regular manila folder with "privacy sleeve" written on it in ballpoint pen.