Legislature Dems asking too many questions

Orange County, NY Legislature, Feb. 2, 2017.

Orange County Legislative Chairman (Rep.) Steve Brescia.

Orange County Legislative Minority Leader (Dem.) Matt Turnbull.

There was some fuss at the February Orange County Legislative meeting regarding Chairman Steve Brescia’s committee appointments.  During the public comment period an impassioned member of the public delivered a spirited defense of democracy and the power of asking questions, which allegedly Mr. Brescia has all but eviscerated by appointing only Repubicans as chairs of the various committees.  (Video of the legislative sessions is on their website here.) The Democrats have been accused of “asking too many questions.”  There was also a minor flare-up between Brescia and Democratic Minority Leader Matt Turnbull at the end of the meeting, as it appeared that Mr. Turnbull wanted to prolong the meeting which Mr. Brescia had already adjourned.

The next legislative meeting is Thursday, March 2, at 3:30 p.m.

I am a big proponent of that. I hope the medical providers in this county take a chance on it.

An odd quote, this, from Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler, referring to the need for more after-care programs for drug addicts such as methadone or other maintenance programs for those withdrawing from heroin or other pain pills (article in midhudsonnews.)

Illustrating the article is a picture of Mr. Hoovler with County Exectuive Neuhaus, in a pensive pose:

In June, the Times Herald-Record had a report by Chris McKenna that Orange County had the highest heroin overdose rate in the state for the most recent year statistics were available (2014.)

I wonder and hope Mr. Neuhaus was listening to Mr. Hoovler’s remarks.  After all, doesn’t the county provide mental health and substance abuse support services?  This is an area that the county could really take a lead in, because it is not profitable for the hospitals to do so–witness St. Luke’s Newburgh exiting the methadone clinic business a few years ago for just that reason.

Mr. Neuhaus had high hopes of merging the commissioner positions of the Department of Social Services and the Department of Mental Health earlier this year, although it is not apparent to me that this has followed through.  Whatever his overall master plan may be, I hope he keeps in mind that methadone clinics and similar programs are necessary–as his own district attorney tells him, right beside him–and that I would like to remind him, hospitals are not always so generous to “take a chance” if they think they won’t make a profit, which in my opinion puts a burden on the state.

Impossible dreams and axes to grind

I have been thinking about New York City for a while, and affordable housing, and how expensive that city has gotten in particular, and how I could never afford to live there again. How the average apartment rent is $3,000 per month, and the cost of contemporary art museum admissions is in the range of $20 and up, with no optional pay what you want. I did some binge reading about young artists leaving the city (which they’ve been doing for years) or not even going there to begin with, going to other cities that have more reasonable cost of living expenses. I tried to remember the last time I had even been to New York, and I can’t remember. I think it has been about five years now. Hopefully my lack of mobility does not hobble my mind to parochial limits.

But I went off on this mental tangent about skyrocketing housing costs, because no one is building affordable housing (not really) in New York City or San Francisco, not like in the grand old days of urban renewal planning—granted with what a mess they made in some cases. Locally the Newburgh Community Development Agency no longer exists, state-wise the NY Urban Development Agency has morphed into the Empire State Development Agency which basically gives away cash to businesses for economic development purposes. Years ago NCDA and NUDA collaborated and built Lake Street Housing Complex, for example.

For all the city council meetings I’ve attended over the past ten years I’m not sure how the responsibility for affordable housing gets overseen or if it is just left to the market, and the forces of capitalism prevail. That certainly sounds like what is happening in NYC and San Francisco at the moment. I guess what I am wishing for is some kind of more active encouragement on government’s side for affordable housing where it is needed, although I think this would be something wildly unpopular with the “taxpayers/with an ax to grind crowd.”

It’s interesting that Mill Street Partners got their project. Personally I liked the former planner Ian MacDougall’s idea of the combined Police/Fire station on that block, although it was sort of an impossible dream given so many approvals already in place for Mill St.

Civil Service Commission, Water Meetings & Updates

Two press releases arrived today about upcoming meetings. Friday there is a Civil Service Commission meeting at 1:00 p.m. although it is expected to immediately enter into executive session. At the last work session under the topic of discussion of removing a commissioner, or at least asking the commissioner to recuse a vote should it come to that on the police chief, it was mentioned by Corporation Counsel that the City’s CSC had an appointment to hear back from the State to give them advice but then that was postponed because the State wanted their attorneys present on the phone call. So perhaps (speculation here) the ducks are now in a row and we can now expect a resolution to the ongoing saga of what will be decided about the Police Chief.

The second press release is from the U.S. EPA:


click on image above to download flyer in English and Spanish (pdf)

As per the flyer, the meeting will be held 9/19/16 at Mt. St. Mary’s College.  In today’s Times Herald-Record there was an article that stated that NYS is going to test Newburgh residents for contaminants in a future program.

Don’t let me hear you say life’s taking you nowhere, angel

Today I called the City of Newburgh City Manager’s office to get an update regarding the Police Chief’s position. I spoke with Naomi Fay, the manager’s Executive Assistant. She confirmed that nothing much had happened since the last civil service commission meeting at which the decision to terminate the current police chief had been tabled since there is no replacement available, and that guidance would be sought from the state and the county over the course of the following month. Ms. Fay also emailed me a letter written by Police Chief Dan Cameron to the City Manager outlining the chief’s gripes about a perceived conflict of interest with a civil service commissioner, arguing that he should recuse himself from the voting process of the police chief.

One of the problems with all this is these perceived conflicts of interest were hinted at by the city manager and the police chief back in December of 2015; you can see that memorialized in a Times Herald-Record article here.  Why did Chief Cameron and Manager Ciaravino never articulate these problems before the City’s Board of Ethics if it was such a problem, or seek some other official means of redress?  Even now, why is the police chief writing to his ally the city manager–his buddy who went in on an Article 78 lawsuit against the Civil Service Commission (and lost)–instead of getting help from an authority that could actually do something?

Ms. Fay told me she thought the letter dated August 18th she emailed me had been “posted on Facebook” but that none of the newspapers had written about it.

Update: in today’s (August 31) Mid-Hudson Times and the MidHudsonNews.com there appear articles on this issue.  Acting Chief Cameron has gained the support of two council members who were formerly critical, Cindy Holmes and Torrance Harvey.

For an overview of the ups and downs of the saga, check here.

The cast of characters:

Click to enlarge. Left to Right: Leslie Haskins, former nonprofit director; Civil Service Administrator Michele Mills; Police Chief Dan Cameron; City Manager Michael Ciaravino; Hon. Catherine M. Bartlett



Few make a fuss when a psych ward closes

February 11, 2009, Times Herald-Record:

CORNWALL — St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital expects to discontinue inpatient admissions to its mental health unit on March 1. The Mental Health Services Council approved the closure Friday.

The hospital announced plans in September to close the unit, citing an operating loss.

It’s unfortunate this happened just before President Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act, which included provisions for protections against discrimination of treatment for mental illness. While this is generally applied to insurance companies who would formerly cut patients with mental illness off at a certain point, and not their non-mentally ill cohorts, I think it is within the spirit of the law to hold hospitals responsible for a non-discriminatory environment.
These are interesting things to think about as St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital becomes ever more viciously profit driven, even as it collects tax-free millions from the state, with little accountability and decides to close its Cornwall Emergency Room, for lack of profitability.

Merging commissioners report

Got the report re: merging DSS and Mental Health department commissioners positions emailed to me yesterday afternoon at 3 p.m. (Thank you, Mental Health Department.)  It is 71 pages long, but here are a few things from an initial skim through it:

  1. This report appears to be about merging the departments together, even though this has been denied by County Executive Neuhaus and his administrative staff, and I have heard legislators told it was “only” the commissioner position that was to be merged–not the departments.  (Going back to Ms. Miller’s appointment in December of 2014 there is a hint of downsizing in Executive Neuhaus’s quote/article here.)
  2. I remember from the June Human Services Legislative Committee meeting hearing someone say that five other counties have done this in NY State.  The report makes some mention of this having been done elsewhere on page 16 but does not name the counties.  Meanwhile, Mike Anagnostakis counters, ‘“It’s a test case. It hasn’t been done anywhere else so before we move to judge we have to hear if New York State says we can,” Anagnostakis said.’
  3. The general language of the report introduces the topic with small government generalizations about fiscal stress and overburdened taxpayers and the need to save money.  A note of thoughtfulness appears on page 8, where the authors describe how the addition of a member from the Mental Health Department has helped recognize unmet needs of participants in the Pathways to Independence program.  But surely this kind of collaboration could happen with or without a merged administrator.
    This leads me to a larger generalization about the report.  Some of the ideas about collaborations between the two departments make a lot of sense.  However, I do not understand why collaboration must be at the expense of a department or both departments.
  4. All this for $159,134: that’s the total anticipated savings of this move, the cut from removing the salary and benefits of the commissioner of mental health from the budget.
  5. Authors tout the opportunity to “eliminate duplication/efficiency” yet this seems so odd as the departments provide different services.  So much so, that, for example, the departments’ staff concluded that they could not create a unified application for clients seeking services from both of them.

In conclusion… the appendices are revealing in terms of the range of vision of the administration.  Appendix 1 is about joint meetings of the two departments communicating together.  Appendix 2 is about how the opiate epidemic is being addressed.  On page 47 is Appendix 3: “What are the Pressing Issues we Face Today?”

Something that I did not see in Ms. Miller’s report was a commitment to the mentally ill part of her constituency.  Over the years I have watched and bemoaned the fact that the number of psychiatric beds in Orange County has been steadily declining.  First St. Luke’s Cornwall closed, claiming low Medicaid reimbursements.  Then Arden Hill closed.  Yes, the new ORMC opened, but with fewer psych beds.  It seems that what was formerly known as Occupations, now Access Supports for Living, is the safety net for many needing mental health care in Orange County, apart from private providers.  What could the county be doing to support Orange County’s mental health in a more robust way?
And to reiterate my earlier statement, I do not understand why a county with a $40 million surplus would want to cut a measly $159,134–that’s .04% of the surplus.  Hiring someone with administrative level expertise and qualifications in mental health issues could be a real bonus for Orange County.

Foil update

Foil update. I asked the Legislative Foil Officer for a copy of the Report handed out to legislators at a July 19, 2016 committee meeting: “Building a more integrated system of care” by Darcie Miller, current Acting Commissioner of Mental Health and Commissioner of the Department of Social Services. Was told to ask Mental Health Dept. Waiting to hear back from them, hopefully in less than 20 days.

Merging of Commissioners of Mental Health and DSS

Today, Orange County legislators met in committee to discuss merging the commissioner positions of Mental Health and the Department of Social Services. I am concerned that merging these two administrative level positions will result in sacrifices to the most vulnerable residents of Orange County. While the legislators and Mr. Neuhaus brag about the “cost savings” of such a move, we already have a $40 million surplus. At a time when it is recognized that we are in an opioid/heroin crisis sacrifices should be made elsewhere.

Legislating in the Dark

The Orange County Legislature has been discussing merging two commissioner positions, the Department of Social Serves and Mental Health.

Two days ago I made a Freedom of Information Law request to the Orange County, NY legislature for the following information:
1. Please email the following records if possible:
A. Job Description of the Commissioner of Department of Social Services
B. Job Description of the Commissioner of Department of Mental Health
C. Materials submitted to New York State Authorities (OMH or otherwise) needed to gain approval for merging of these two positions.
D. List of the five other counties in New York State which have merged these two positions.

Today I received back the following:

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