The Jerry Jennings Memorial Dump Fee Bond

June 2, 2010

A routine backroom tax hike becomes controversial and reveals some of the forces at work inside the new Common Council

For the first time in living memory, a City of Albany Common Council has openly defied a sitting mayor on a matter of substance. It began when Jerry Jennings demanded money from the taxpayers, as usual, this time in the form of interest bearing bonds to pay for expanding Jerry Jennings’ Memorial Dump, officially known as the Rapp Road “Landfill.” This is Jennings’ personal permanent legacy, a mountain of leaking garbage rippled with toxic sludge that He has dumped upon the City that He despises.

Rather than dumbly and stupidly agree to carry out Mayor Jerry Jennings orders without question like they almost always do, some of the Common Council members actually demanded for a little while that the Mayor explain why He “needs” to force City of Albany taxpayers to subsidize corporate waste haulers with this bond. Of course no explanations for this subsidy were forthcoming from the Mayor, that was not an option.

No one is allowed to know anything about the City of Albany budget. Secrecy, you see, is a method of control. An open budget would mean final loss of control by Jennings, and possibly public exposure of criminal activities that His Majesty desperately needs to conceal. The Mayor is raising our taxes to pay for His Dump, why is not our concern.

Part Of The Rapp Road "Landfill," Note How Waste Is Encroaching Upon The Green "Restored" Part Of The Dump {Photo Bert Schou}Part Of The Rapp Road "Landfill," Note How Waste Is Encroaching Upon The Green "Restored" Part Of The Dump {Photo Bert Schou} Part Of The Rapp Road "Landfill," Note How Waste Is Encroaching Upon The Green "Restored" Part Of The Dump {Photo Bert Schou}

This Dump Fee Bond vote was one of four Dump bonds that Jennings had ordered the Common Council to approve. The Mayor’s majority minions on the Council were easily able to saddle the taxpayers with three of these bonds without any trouble. The one particular act of bonding that was temporarily held up by the Council is an $18 million dollar bond issue for “restoration of the Pine Bush,” actually a temporary dirt cap for one part of The Dump.

Jerry Jennings Jerry Jennings

Yes, that’s right. Never mind that this sort of “restoration” on top of Jennings’ mountain of garbage and toxic sludge is utterly bogus and a complete waste of money. No pitch pine trees or karner blue butterflies will ever live there again. This phony “restoration” is meant to do nothing more than conceal the sight and smell of the “landfill” mountain of crap for a little while… until more garbage is dropped on top of the “restoration.”

The State of New York, you see, has mandated that an extra ten dollars must be charged for each ton of crap dumped onto the new expanded part of The Dump. Now if the State followed it’s own rules it would shut down Jerry’s Dump today. But rather than set an example by obeying it’s own laws, the State once again came up with some sort of lame-o “mitigation,” this includes the extra fee that is supposed to be paid by the corporate waste haulers.

If the City does not collect the fee, the State won’t let Jennings expand His Dump. But Jerry Jennings cannot bring Himself to charge His corporate waste hauler buddies this extra fee as the State intended. Instead, He is demanding that Albany taxpayers pay the fee, plus interest.

His justification for urinating on the taxpayers instead of charging the corporate haulers has been to point out that there is indeed a massive glut of available landfill space locally, and that the Jennings Memorial Dump, which already charges half what other dumps charge, “must remain competitive.” But the corporate haulers have already said that if they have to pay the extra ten bucks a ton they will do so. The existing fees for dumping on Albany are so cheap that they don’t really mind.

What it comes down to is that Jennings loves and admires corporate waste haulers and He despises the City taxpayers. I know that sounds crass but unfortunately that’s the sad truth. Our Mayor is working through His own mental problems by destroying “His” own community. If you don’t believe that, then take a ride out Washington Avenue Extension and look up at the sky. You come up with a better explanation for why He piled all that shit on top of the Pine Bush.

Plastic Bags Constantly Blow Off The Rapp Road "Landfill" And Kill Pine Bush Vegetation {Photo Bert Schou} Plastic Bags Constantly Blow Off The Rapp Road "Landfill" And Kill Pine Bush Vegetation {Photo Bert Schou}

The trouble started when the Dump Fee Bond vote came up for the first time. Freshman Council member Lester Freeman (Ward 2) suddenly and dramatically joined with the responsible minority and voted “no.” You see, there are fifteen members of the Council. Bonding away our future needs a super-majority of two thirds, ten votes. Mr. Freeman’s unanticipated no vote added number six to the minority of five and brought Jennings’ Dump Bond Fee to a standstill.

What made his vote a real shocker for regular observers of the Albany political scene is that Mr. Freeman has previously had a reputation for pandering to the Mayor. Indeed, the initial reactions that I heard were pretty much wondering what the 2nd Ward member was trying to pull. I have to admit that after a moment of cognitive dissonance (“Who? Lester? You sure about that?”) I shared the same opinion.

Lester Freeman Lester Freeman

Several days after the vote I had an opportunity to chat with Mr. Freeman, I asked him why the no vote. To my surprise he told me that he couldn’t vote for a bonding measure without seeing some sort of financial justification for issuing more bonds. “The administration has to provide the Council with an accounting of the costs associated with the Landfill,” he said. “I can’t vote for something I don’t understand.”

Another moment of cognitive dissonance, I’m not used to hearing Council members other than my own representative Mr. Calsolaro making statements like that. I then informed Mr. Freeman that Save the Pine Bush has been repeatedly asking the City for a full cost accounting of The Dump every year for over ten years without any success. His reaction to this bit of information was to stare at me with his mouth open for about five seconds, his own moment of cognitive dissonance.

Very interesting! I have two interpretations of Mr. Freeman’s reaction to my news. First, up until that point he must have assumed that of course the City has had at least some sort of accounting available and that the Mayor simply chose to withhold it from the Council. Any reasonable person would assume that. Not only was I telling him that no accounting has ever been available, the Mayor has no intention of providing any sort of accounting anytime ever unless He is forced to do so, perhaps at gunpoint.

Second, Mr. Freeman appeared to me sincere in his desire to have basic financial information that has traditionally been denied to the Common Council and to the taxpayers. “My constituents (mostly in the South End) are the least able to pay if costs for garbage removal go up,” he said. “I owe it them to find out as much as I can.”

So I asked Mr. Freeman about his current employment. He proceeded to make sure I understood that he is no longer beholden to the City or the county and owes nothing political to anybody. That’s certainly encouraging, but as I like to say with all elected officials, we’ll eventually see if that is true.

Increasingly Rare Karner Blue Butterflies {Photo Grace Nichols Increasingly Rare Karner Blue Butterflies {Photo Grace Nichols}

Dominick Calsolaro (1st Ward) is of course at the center of the Council’s responsible minority that demands cost accounting, at one time he was the only representative displaying financial integrity. Right from the beginning of his first four year term (he’s in his third) he has consistently annoyed the Mayor’s minions by opposing the City’s out of control habit of bonding for everything, including office supplies. At one point Jerry Jennings’ response was to publicly call Dominick nasty names and to order all City departments to ignore his requests on behalf of his constituents.

Dominick Calsolaro Dominick Calsolaro

During his first term in the early part of the last decade I sat in a Common Council meeting and watched Dominick stand alone in opposition to an uneccessarry bond issue, this was unprecedented. No one was allowed to defy the Mayor! These votes that quietly screw us taxpayers were supposed to be unanimous. This was because, in those pre-internet days, no one in City government was supposed to call attention to these kind of gross financial rip-offs. This was understood by everybody, so what was Dominick’s problem? Not a team player?

When it came time to vote, I watched one Common Council member after another stand up and nastily berate Dominick for daring to do the right thing. I sat disgusted, thinking to myself what a bunch of spineless braindead scumballs, how dare they. Dominick looked battered and distressed at the ritual abuse and even became apologetic, but he didn’t back down and he cast the lone vote in opposition to the bond.

Dominick doesn’t like me to tell that story, but I consider it one of his finest moments. I know exactly what he went through, I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve had to sit and listen to a group of idiots take turns telling me what a jerk I am. That evening Dominick stood tall before the idiots, sustained solely by the firm conviction that he was the only one in the chamber who was right. And he was.

A month after the first Dump Fee Bond vote the Mayor found a defector among the responsible minority and ordered his minions to call for a second vote. I couldn’t begin to explain why Cathy Fahey (7th Ward) has always been so undecided on “landfill” issues, for me it’s all black and white yes or no. I can tell you that because of her chronic fence sitting Cathy has had to endure quite a bit of pressure from both sides.

Jackie Jenkins-Cox Jackie Jenkins-Cox

Sad to say, Ms. Fahey defected to the irresponsible majority as expected. But then without any warning whatsoever Jackie Jenkins-Cox (5th Ward) joined the responsible side, voting no to the bonding. From the Hearst Times Union:

Jenkins-Cox… said she changed her vote after hearing from three constituents Friday about the increasingly heavy tax burden the City is foisting on them. "If we keep voting to pass bond after bond, it’s only going to increase their taxes," she said. "I think my constituents are going to be happy that I did this for them." The turnabout prompted Councilman Lester Freeman, who opposes the borrowing, to openly celebrate with a fist pump and broad smile as Jenkins-Cox registered her vote, which clearly stunned others.