Red Cross Still Holding onto Sandy Relief Monies
It has been seven months since Superstorm Sandy hit the tri-state area, and the Red Cross still has more than two-thirds of the $303 million it raised to aid relief efforts at its disposal. Though some are questioning this slow use of resources, the Red Cross defends its actions, saying that the money will be used to meet long-term needs of victims that were not immediately apparent after the storm. These needs include “move-in assistance” grants, used to help the thousands of families who lost their homes to the storm. The Red Cross is also waiting to see where the hardest-hit states are going to allocate their federal relief dollars, so they can aid in closing gaps in government aid packages. The group has promised that the Sandy relief funds will not be diverted to other disasters or used to support group operations. Other groups that have withheld money in the interest of determining where it can best be spent for long-term recovery include: The Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund and the United Way. On the other hand, the Robin Hood Foundation, which held a concert to raise disaster relief funds, distributed the $70 million from its December show by April.
Moody’s Downgrades East Ramapo Central School District
Moody’s Investors Services, one of the nation’s top credit rating agencies, recently downgraded the East Ramapo Central School District $14.4 million in outstanding debt while also maintaining a negative outlook on the district’s finances. East Ramapo’s rating dropped from A2 to Baa1. According to an official release by Moody’s, the rating “…reflects ongoing deterioration in the district’s financial position with the expectation of a negative General Fund balance at the end of fiscal 2013.” Moody’s specifically cited the district’s failure to maintain adequate revenues, one-time budget fixes through asset sales and difficulties in gaining budget approvals from voters. Worse, Moody’s cited continued revenue troubles combined with growing healthcare and pension costs as reasons for a negative outlook in future fiscal years. Though Moody’s mentioned the recent FBI raid of the Ramapo Town Hall and subsequent investigation in its release, it also explained the school district was autonomous from the town and there was no indication the developing scandal involved school administration or operations.
Columbia County Man will not be Prosecuted for SAFE Act Violation
Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka announced on May 23 that as per his promise, Gregory Dean Jr., 31, will not be prosecuted for a violation of the recently-enacted New York State SAFE Act. Dean was pulled over earlier in May for a broken license plate light. Upon examination of the car, police discovered a loaded handgun under some clothing on the passenger seat. Though police confirmed the gun was possessed legally, they arrested Dean for loading the handgun with nine rounds, two rounds over the new state limit of seven which went into effect on April 15. Though Dean will not be prosecuted on charges related to the handgun, which he explained to Fox 23 News he did not realize was illegal to possess with more than seven bullets, he is still subject to charges related to his traffic violation.
Protests Challenge New JFK Terminal as Ineffective at Creating Jobs
Airport workers and community activists held an alternative opening ceremony to an official Delta Air celebration on May 24 just outside the new Terminal 4 at JFK International Airport. The “celebration” was organized to call out Delta for ignoring the needs of financially-struggling terminal workers. The Terminal 4 project was undertaken to address the future decommissioning and demolition of the obsolete Terminal 3. While Delta claims the $3 billion in terminal expansions and improvements would enhance profitability and support shareholders, workers argued the renovations did nothing to address promises made by Delta to provide good jobs for terminal workers, many of whom live on subsistence wages of about $8 per hour and must take public assistance to survive. Workers have also complained that their inquiries into the status of Terminal 3 workers have gone unanswered by Delta, leaving many to wonder if layoffs lay on the horizon. Funds for the project came primarily in the form of public money, including an $800 million bond from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and tax-free financing of $210 million from the New York City Industrial Development Agency.
Bond Sales Postponed by Ramapo
The sale of $39.2 million in bonds meant to pay for basic services and refinance the town of Ramapo’s debt was postponed at the town board’s May 23 meeting, with no new sale date established to replace the issuances. According to Environmental Capital, Ramapo’s financial advisor, short-term notes will replace the bond issuances to pay for nearly $37 million in previously-issued short-term loans, which will come due this week. Town officials declined comment or stated they were unclear on what was going on with the bonds. The move is particularly noteworthy given recent events in Ramapo such as the downgrading of school board debt by Moody’s and the continued FBI investigation into the town government. In reference to the town’s bond issuances, the town retains an A1 rating with the rating agency, but also a negative outlook.
Ramapo Website Comes Down One Day after FBI Raid
A report relayed to the Rockland County Times on May 19 revealed that not only the Ramapo Town Board’s website, but also the website of Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence, were down the day after the FBI raided the Town Hall. Both sites are once again accessible. No reason was given for failures to access the website, though it is plausible that interferences from seized computer equipment might have contributed to the failure. Likewise, no official indication has been given yet as to what alleged improprieties the FBI is investigating or whether St. Lawrence will be prosecuted. The May 15 raid, wherein FBI agents seized paper documents and hard drives from the Ramapo Town Hall, sent shockwaves throughout the county. FBI officials remain tight-lipped, but an investigation insider suggested they were seeking records related to Boulder Stadium, a controversial project financed through $25 million in bonds from Ramapo Local Development Corporation, St. Lawrence’s private nonprofit, and criticized by the State Comptroller for running a possible $60 million tab for taxpayers.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio Joins Renewed Call for Investigation into Obama’s Eligibility
In an affidavit from the chief of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s “Cold Case Posse,” a cadre of conservative personalities is renewing a call to investigate President Obama’s eligibility for the office of president. The affidavit, submitted by Mike Zullo, comes as part of a larger suit brought by attorney Larry Klayman on behalf of 2012 Constitution Party presidential nominee Virgil Goode and Alabama Republican Party leader Hugh McInnish. Goode and McInnish are suing to force Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman to verify the eligibility of all 2012 presidential candidates on the ballot, including Obama. The case had been presented before a lower court. It was dismissed before going to Alabama’s Supreme Court, where Roy Moore, who had previously gone on record questioning Obama’s eligibility, presides as Chief Justice.
Millions Rally Against Monsanto in International Protest
A rally organized to protest farming and bioengineering giant Monsanto drew international attention far beyond its initial scope, attracting two million people from 52 countries for a series of demonstrations on March 25. Monsanto has received significant attention in recent months for practices ranging from genetic modification of seeds to the use of pesticides and hormones which activists say might have detrimental effects on human health. Many activists explained the protests were not merely a statement against the agricultural giant, but also an informational message to others on their food quality and choices. The protest comes on the heels of a number of high-profile laws and court cases, including the Monsanto Protection Act, which allows farmers to buy and plant genetically-modified seeds while the seeds’ regulatory status is up for review in federal court. Additionally, the protest came shortly after the rejection of a bill sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) requiring labeling of foods containing GMOs.
Stockholm Riots Highlight Tensions between Muslim Immigrants and Swedes
A riot which began in the Swedish suburb of Husby on May 19 expanded outward since then, with predominantly immigrant protesters hurling bricks at police and setting fire to cars and buildings in an explosion of outrage over a failure to address race and economic issues in the prosperous European nation. The rioting began in Husby when police shot an elderly man who had threatened them with a machete. Violence, most of which was perpetrated by young men and teens, spread to 15 suburbs. The neighborhoods included Rågsved, where a police station was set ablaze in one of 75 to 80 fires that night, most of which were arsons. As of May 24, 29 people had been detained by police responding to riots. The unrest rocked Sweden, which prides itself on progressive social policies and an extensive welfare state, and has called into question the completeness of the nation’s economic recovery. Some critics have pointed to a lack of educational and career opportunities for an estimated 77,000 unemployed youths between the ages of 16 and 29 and cultural tensions as reasons for the outburst of rage. Critics of immigration have said they believe the riots show the lack of desire to assimilate amongst many foreign-born living in Sweden.
Sheriffs to Meet in National Conference on Safeguarding the Constitution
The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers’ Association’s “Heartland of America” conference at the Ameristar Hotel in St. Charles, Mo. will aim to bring sheriffs from across the nation together for information sessions on constitutional policing and interacting with federal law enforcement. The purpose of the conference is to discuss conflicts between local and federal authorities and the restoration of constitutional safeguards to their respective jurisdictions. CSPOA founder and Executive Director Sheriff Richard Mack explained the emphasis would be on “state sovereignty and local autonomy.” Mack went on to add that much of the recent attention to such issues came in response to perceived federal overreach. Recently, sheriffs have often been high-profile critics of what they perceive as unconstitutional intrusion into the jurisdictions of local law enforcement and the rights of private citizens. The CSPOA has kept close tabs on dissenting sheriffs, tallying 18 state sheriffs’ associations and over 450 sheriffs who have spoken out against new federal gun control measures.
“Gender-Bender” Day at Elementary School Sparks Outrage with Parents
Milwauke’s Tippecanoe Elementary School has raised the ire of parents for holding a “Gender-Bender” day where kids were encouraged to come in dressed in clothing of the opposite sex. The event was held on May 24. It was renamed “Switch Up” Day by the school to alleviate parents’ concerns, but the focus of the event remained the same and few if any parents expressed relief at the name change. Instead, they reacted with shock and anger at the event, with some promising to keep their children home for the day. Milwauke Public Schools defended the activity, arguing participation was voluntary and children would not be required to join in. Another teacher at Tippecanoe also defended the practice independently from the school board, explaining his personal experience with similar events.
Cuomo Announces Initiative to Combat Cyber Threats to Insurance Company
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a new initiative on May 28 to gather information on insurers’ cyber security readiness to protect insured New Yorkers from attacks on their information. The New York State Department of Financial Services sent out 308 letters to the largest regulated insurance companies, requesting policies and procedures related to cyber security safeguards, IT management policies, resources dedicated to cyber security and internal control policies related to cyber security. The announcement occurred shortly after Cuomo announced the formation of the Cyber Security Advisory Board, a collection of officials with experience from both the public and private sector who are tasked with advising the governor on cyber security policy. The letters are not the first inquiries into New York businesses’ cyber security safeguards. Similar inquiries were sent earlier this year to banks in order to examine their cyber security measures.
Business Fined by Board of Health for Violations
Business and property owners who violated the county’s sanitary code were dealt fines this month by the Rockland County Board of Health, after being given the opportunity to attend a hearing and address the board. The amount of the fine was determined by how severely the law was violated and prior history of meeting the code requirements.
Those fined include: Karl Bjorkland, for hauling waste without a proper permit; Robert Aguilar, for allowing a person to reside in a third-floor apartment that did not have a permit; On Time Disposal Inc., for hauling waste without a proper permit; Cottage Carting, for hauling waste without a proper permit; Green Zone Landscaping LLC, for hauling waste without a proper permit; Anna & the King Cuisine Inc., for failure of workers to use gloves when handling food and inadequate hand-washing facilities; Donato Marangi Inc., for hauling waste without a proper permit; Julsam Realty LLC, for housing violations, including a hole in the hallway and defective windows; Harvey Klein, for failure to get approval before installing a storm drain; Yomtov Breuer, for failure to get approval before installing a storm drain; and Piermont Plaza Realty LLC, for failing to take steps to prevent mosquito breeding.
Same Sex Marriage Not Going Over Well in France
Two weeks ago, same-sex marriage was made legal in France. On Sunday, up to one million people attended a demonstration protesting this new bill, according to the protest organizers. The Minister of the Interior Manuel Valls attempted to discourage a large turnout by warning of potential violence and telling families with children they would be wise to remain indoors during the protest. Young people, families, and mothers pushing their children along in strollers marched to the Invalides from three different parts of Paris, despite the warnings from Vall. The actual number of protestors present is unclear, as the organizers report close to one million and the police gave estimates of 150,000. Frigide Barjot is the figurehead of “Manif pour tous,” but did not attend the protest due to threats against her person and belief that there is nothing that can be done to change the law. Instead, she plans to fight the right of same-sex couples to adopt children. After the demonstration, people gathered to light small candles, read poetry, and sing a song titled “Hope” behind the Invalides. There were a total of 350 protestors arrested and 250 taken into custody.
Free for Me but not for Thee
Governor Cuomo has a new plan that is part of his initiative to boost the economy of upstate New York. He announced on Tuesday that private universities and State University of New York campuses will be eligible to apply for tax-free business zones on or near their campuses. The state is offering a total share of 120 million square feet, which includes sites other than college campuses, such as former prisons. The businesses built up at these sites would remain free of corporate, sales, and property taxes for ten years. Employees would be free of income taxes for five years. Private schools are already eager to apply and compete for the land grants, but Governor Cuomo still needs legislative approval before putting the plan in motion. All SUNY campuses are eligible, but private schools must submit a proposal describing how they plan to develop the tax-free commercial area they are given. Work with SUNY college presidents is set to begin next week. Businesses may only be considered for the tax-free zone if they are creating new jobs, and Cuomo believes these tax incentives will be enough to help raise the lowering population of the upstate region.
Dolphin Wanders to Stony Point
On Memorial Day Stony Pointers found a surprise sight in the Hudson River not far from Ba Mar mobile homes; a single Rossi’s Dolphin somehow wandered its way all the way up the Hudson to the Stony Point area. According to experts, the odds are not in favor of the dolphin spotted in a Hudson River cove in Stony Point. The dolphin, spotted on Monday, is most likely ill and these animals do not tend to do as well this far north as other sea mammals, such as seals and whales, which have also been sighted in the Hudson River on occasion. The Rockland County Sheriff’s Department’s River Patrol was at the cove, doing what they could for the creature, which was reportedly floating on its side about 10 feet offshore. The River Patrol contacted the Department of Environmental Conservation, but they did not have a marine unit available for assistance. The Riverhead Foundation, a not-for-profit group based in Long Island, was contacted instead. The dolphin slowly began to swim better and head south out to sea. The River Patrol remained around it to ensure it had enough room to move into the main part of the river, issuing an order to watercraft operators to reduce speed or remain away from the area.