Timelines 8/10/13

Reimer’s iPad recordings examined as evidence of misconduct
Former Town of Ramapo employee Melissa Reimer is now faced with penalties for perjury stemming from secret recordings of town meetings on her iPad. Reimer is now being investigated for recording investigative interviews with a deputy town attorney, Beth Finkelstein, and the personnel director, Linda Condon. According to deputy town attorney Michael Specht, Reimer was told not to record the interviews, but did so anyway. Initially, Reimer was suspended without pay from her position as Ramapo’s supervisor of fiscal services for alleged alterations of financial documents benefitting a police officer with whom she allegedly had an affair. Specht claimed Reimer lied about making the recordings under oath at a hearing to evaluate the initial misconduct proceedings. Reimer has refused to release the recordings. Reimer’s counsel Fred Lichtmacher is arguing the recordings are irrelevant to the case, which he argues is a product of the town’s retaliation against Reimer for cooperation with an ongoing FBI investigation into town finances which culminated in a raid of the Ramapo Town Hall in May.

Ramapo cyclist struck in hit-and-run
Ramapo police reported on August 5 that a cyclist was struck by a moving vehicle on Union Road in the Village of New Hempstead in an apparent hit-and-run incident. The 44 year old Spring Valley cyclist was struck from behind at approximately 3:40 p.m. by a southbound vehicle which fled the scene immediately after the accident. Emergency personnel transported the cyclist to Good Samaritan Hospital by Spring Hill Ambulance, where he was treated for non-life threatening injuries. The cyclist could not give a description of the vehicle or its occupants and police are currently continuing their investigation. Anybody with information can call Ramapo Police at 845-357-2400.

Amazon founder to purchase Washington Post
The Washington Post Company agreed on August 5 to sell its paper to Jeff P. Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, for $250 million in a stunning end to the Graham family’s dynastic guidance over one of America’s most well-known publications. Few people were reported to have known about the sale of the iconic paper until Post Chairman and CEO Donald Graham and Publisher Katharine Weymouth broke the news to employees at a board meeting. “The Post could have survived under the company’s ownership and been profitable for the foreseeable future. But we wanted to do more than survive,” Graham said. “I’m not saying this guarantees success, but it gives us a much greater chance of success.” The Post gained widespread attention during the Watergate Scandal and continued to produce high-quality journalism from the Washington area. Recently, it broke Edward Snowden’s leak of the NSA’s wiretapping programs. However, it has faced serious competition since the advent of digital news services and suffered a 44 percent decline in operating revenue over the past six years, making its survival an uncertainty. The paper is set to be sold to Bezos himself rather than to the Amazon Company. After the sale, The Post Co. will change its name and continue its other operations.

Federal government to forcibly integrate low-income minorities into affluent white areas
An announcement was made by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan at NAACP’s convention last week which will aim to improve diversity in neighborhoods which tend to exclude minorities. According to Donovan, minorities are not being encouraged to move into these neighborhoods enough and prosecutions of instances of housing discrimination do not sufficiently combat a problem which he said was “just as harmful” as racial segregation. The new program will allow the federal government to withhold federal funds from state and local government agencies if they do not show efforts to improve racial diversity through interactions with developers, home-owners associations, realtors and other housing groups. Neighborhood progress would be tracked with an interactive database of census information plotted onto maps. Local authorities, real estate and housing groups would be able to access these maps in order to make decisions in line with federal goals.

Ongoing nuclear water leak at Fukushima called “Disaster”
Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) announced on August 5 that contaminated groundwater continues to seep into the ocean from Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Plant in what they characterize as an ongoing environmental emergency. According to the authority, an underground barrier was set up to prevent the groundwater from flowing outward, but the water continues to rise beyond the barrier and may soon begin flowing into the ocean. Though the danger of the radioactive water was not immediately known following the disaster, reports suggest the groundwater which might be released now exceeds legal limits of radioactive discharge. Though the release may reach the Pacific, experts in the U.S. have argued the United States is in no immediate danger. They argue the ocean’s dilution would be so great that the radioactivity would not be detectable by the time it would reach the Pacific seaboard. Tepco, which administered the plant before and after its failure, has been criticized for a failure to address the situation in an urgent matter. Tepco has also been strongly criticized for improper preparation for damage to the plant in the 2011 tsunami and earthquake and subsequent alleged cover-ups of wrongdoing before they finally admit radioactive groundwater was going into the ocean.

Bloomberg data center gets sizable portion of energy grant
Bloomberg L.P.’s proposed data center in Orangeburg will be receiving an energy grant from New York’s ReCharge NY Program, which incentivizes companies job creators with cheap power allocations. This is particularly valuable for Bloomberg, which will receive 8,000 kilowatts of electricity. Power supplies are valuable for data centers, which must constantly maintain its servers. In exchange, Bloomberg’s 131,000 square foot facility is expected to create 80 full-time jobs and 250 construction jobs for a business which has promised $245,000 in capital investments. For their part in supporting 3,191 jobs, including 450 new ones, Bloomberg will join 18 companies in receiving a combined 19.6 megawatts of electricity, about half of which will come from sources such as the Power Authority’s Niagara and St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt hydroelectric power plants. The rest will come from market sources secured by the New York Power Authority. The new plant’s construction will be managed by Tishman Construction, a subsidiary of AECOM Technology Corporation. Tishman is also supervising the construction of One World Trade Center.

Westchester Independence Party faced with internal conflict
The Westchester Independence Party’s decision to support Democrat Noam Bramson for county executive has produced a division within Independence ranks, with dissenters facing threat of expulsion as early as next week. Challengers to the old guard are rallying around the Committee to Clean Up the Westchester Independence Party in an effort to root out what they claim is rampant corruption within the party’s ranks. Following Bramson’s selection, a coalition of new members began collecting petitions for write-in candidates for all races. The party leadership has since cracked down on the opposition, contesting the write-in petitions in court and scheduling a hearing on August 13 where the fate of 50 dissenters within the party will be determined. State law allows the exclusion of party members who are “not in sympathy with the principles of such party.” In response to the controversy within the party over Bramson’s selection, Party Vice Chairwoman Dhyalma Vazquez accused the rival faction of attempting a hostile takeover of party leadership at the expense of the party.

Bowline Power Plant owner wants a 94.6 percent reduction in assessment
In an attempt to reduce taxes paid by West Haverstraw’s Bowline Power Plant, NRG Bowline LLC is seeking a drastic 94.6 percent reduction in the plant’s assessment. Bowline is calling for the plant’s $138.64 million assessment to be reduced to $5 million in a filing with the state Supreme Court, which will in turn reduce tax payouts to $300,000 for both of Bowline’s Rockland County plants. Since 2008, the plant’s owners have continually challenged the plant’s appraisal in an effort to reduce their tax burden. Haverstraw Town Supervisor Howard Phillips argued it was irrational for the plant to pay only $300,000 given its current tax burden of $10.5 million. He added, however, that the town’s assessor had been reducing the assessment each year in anticipation of a tax settlement. In 2009, the plant’s value was set at $391 in another court decision favoring Mirant, the plant’s previous owner. To pay back the $275 million owed to the facility, the town had to institute a significant tax hike on residents.

Carlucci to promote research into mental illness
Senator David Carlucci will join scientists with the New York State Department of Mental Health’s Nathan Kline Institute on Thursday for a presentation on the newest research on the causes and treatment of mental illnesses. The NKI’s studies aim to identify connections between brain development and human behavior. Volunteer brain studies of Rockland resident termed the “Rockland Sample” will be discussed. Following a press conference, the event will move on to a presentation of NKI’s Center of Advance Brain Imaging (CABI) and MRI equipment used to study brain structure and function. The event will be held at 12 p.m. in Auditorium B of the Nathan Kline Institute, which is located at 140 Old Orangeburg Road in Orangeburg, NY.

Ramapo zoning laws allow illegal schools to operate for years
Peculiarities in zoning and safety laws allow illegal schools, and in particular yeshivas, operate for years without required permits and approvals, according to a Journal News report. According to the article by Mareesa Nicosia, schools are permitted in residential areas, but require fire, safety, zoning and other approvals before classes can begin. However, constraints on time or finances often prompt start-up schools to begin lessons in houses and even trailers without the approvals. However, this does not necessarily mean the schools are operating outside the bounds of the law. A quirk of town policy allows schools to operate for up to two years while gathering approvals, meaning they can function without proper fire or safety measures for extended periods of time while simultaneously collecting thousands in tuition and fees. Residents and fire personnel are often highly critical of the start-up schools, which often accommodate hundreds of students in buildings designed to hold far less people. Critics argue the schools are not only a safety hazard but back up roads with school bus traffic and strain town sewers. Critics have also pointed out that penalties are often too low to force compliance and must be approved by a judge, a slow, uncertain process which does not always produce results. Though such schools do exist in other jurisdictions, they are typically tightly-regulated and face stiffer penalties and more immediate action to prevent illegal use of buildings as schools.

Earth narrowly avoids solar flare disaster
Two experts in electromagnetic pulse technology (EMP) released statements to the Washington Examiner this week explaining a massive solar flare two weeks ago came dangerously close to knocking out much of the earth’s power grid. Both former Reagan Administration strategic arms negotiator and current High Frontier director Henry Cooper and former Congressional EMP Threat Commission member Peter Vincent Pry explained a recent solar flare had the potential to destroy transformers and power lines and disable remote devices such as computers and smart phones across the U.S. Though the situation was a miss, it gave Cooper and Pry an opportunity to speak on the dangers of high-intensity solar flares. Drives for an EMP-resistant power grid have grown in national defense circles. Pry, Cooper, and former CIA director James Woolsey have been pressing Washington for anti-EMP safeguards, including 2,000 to 3,000 protected transformers complete with spares to quickly reconnect power channels in the event of disruption. The drive is partly spurred by longstanding fears of terror attacks involving EMP weapons, but has only begun to receive significant attention. Natural EMP events are not uncommon. Large-scale telegraph disruption occurred in 1859 across Europe and North America and a disruption to Quebec’s electric transmission system occurred in 1989.

Smoking on hospital grounds now illegal in New York
In a codification of disparate regulations, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law on August 1 which will prohibit smoking on hospital and residential healthcare facility grounds. The bill, which was sponsored by Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Rockland) and co-sponsored by Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), universalizes previously separate, local regulations which barred smoking on hospital grounds. It received strong support from the American Lung Association of the Northeast and the American Cancer Society, among other groups. Similar regulations were passed in New York City and over 100 hospitals across the state. The current legislation is set to go into effect within 90 days of its passage.
Florida education commissioner resigns amid grading scandal
Dogged by allegations that he favorably changed the grade of a charter school run by a political supporter, Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett resigned on August 1 while continuing to maintain his innocence. Internal emails revealed by the Associated Press showed that Bennett changed the grade of Christel House, a school run by Republican donor Christel DeHaan, while he served as the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. Initially, the school had earned a state rating of a C due to low 10th grade algebra scores, but the correspondences showed Bennett and his staff worked to change the rating to an A last fall. The A-F rating system in Indiana has already been under scrutiny by both public officials and independent commentators but has received extra attention due to the scandal. Indiana Governor Mike Pence called for the Indiana Department of Education to conduct a review of all A-F letter grades in 2011, while the Indiana chapter of the American Teachers Association went a step further by calling for the suspension of the A-F grading system. Though Bennett stepped down from his position, he insisted he had done nothing wrong and only left to take the pressure off Florida Governor Rick Scott, who is currently working to reform his state’s education system. Bennett encouraged further investigation as well, claiming he has nothing to hide.

Editor fired after telling Obama to “Shove It”
Chattanooga Times Free Press editorial page editor Drew Johnson was fired last week for an editorial which told President Barack Obama to “shove it.” The title, which read “Take your jobs plan and shove it, Mr. President: Your policies have harmed Chattanooga enough,” went viral and provoked outrage among Obama supporters who found it to be inappropriate. The paper subsequently let Johnson go. In response, Johnson commented via Twitter that he “just became the first person in the history of newspapers to be fired for writing a paper’s most read-article.” He defended the article, arguing the paper decided to fire him only because he was critical of Obama and could have merely changed the headline. The Chattanooga Times Free Press did alter the title of the piece to “President Obama’s policies have harmed Chattanooga enough” shortly after the criticisms and explained there was no bias in the decision and it had published editorials critical of Obama before. Instead, they argued the firing was due to “placing a headline on an editorial outside of normal editing procedures,” though Johnson retorted that the policy he allegedly broke did not exist until after the headline change.

CNN says it would be a “disservice to voters” if RNC does not partner with them for debates
The Republican National Convention’s decision to play hardball with CNN and NBC over the networks’ decision to air allegedly Democrat-oriented programs drew a sharp response from CNN on August 5, with the network calling on the RNC to reserve judgment on the matter. The RNC had previously promised it would withhold the right for CNN to air primary debates if the network did not drop a planned documentary on Hillary Clinton. CNN responded sharply that the RNC was threatening to harm voters as a means to get back at the network, calling it “the ultimate disservice to voters” and urging them to reconsider. “Instead of making premature decisions about a project that is in the very early stages of development and months from completion, we would encourage the members of the Republican National Committee to reserve judgment until they know more,” CNN explained in a public statement. Meanwhile, NBC News responded with a less assertive statement, explaining the decision to greenlight a planned NBC miniseries on Hillary Clinton was not made by NBC’s news division. The RNC’s move has gone over well with most conservative activists.