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The week’s headlines

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I once again couldn’t settle on a single topic this week, so here’s my take on a few stories in the news.

Psychiatric Center Jobs

I was surprised to see a television news story this week with state Sen. Patty Ritchie talking about the guarantee she’s received in writing about all 520 of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center’s employees being able to keep jobs in the north country. The qualifying phrase associated with the guarantee of employment for psych center workers was “if they choose,” which was merely mentioned in passing in the report.

The letter offering this alleged guarantee was from acting state Office of Mental Health Commissioner Kristin M. Woodlock, who also noted that employees will have the opportunity to transfer to another facility — apparently Syracuse and Utica are now part of the north country — or transfer to a vacant position in another state agency. I, too, am shocked to hear there are enough vacancies in other state agencies in the north country to keep folks here if OMH can’t find a place for them. Of course, I also didn’t realize the north country is apparently considered by some to stretch well into Central New York.

Nobody should believe that anything is guaranteed because we have absolutely no idea what services will be offered through the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center. Frankly, I think it’s irresponsible for Mrs. Ritchie’s office to release the commissioner’s letter and dub it a “guarantee” without putting the information into perspective.

From what I hear, a lot of employees are planning to retire, and they expect their positions will most likely be eliminated. I also suspect that many employees will have to make a choice between taking a pay cut to remain in the state’s employ, which will also negatively affect their pensions, and finding gainful employment elsewhere. Some might have to move to Syracuse if they want to keep their positions. That doesn’t exactly sound like job security for the north country.

It’s shameful that OMH would try to sell us on their plan to gut the center’s inpatient services by giving misleading statements about not laying anyone off. While it’s true that no layoffs are part of the plan, OMH doesn’t qualify that statement by saying how many people will have to uproot their families and move away to keep their jobs.

City Policies Cause Rumblings

The city of Ogdensburg this week created quite a stir with two policy changes that officials were quick to rectify and/or clarify. The first is that people can’t put out chairs to reserve places along the Seaway Festival Parade route on city-owned property that is also maintained by the city. In first announcing the policy, the city said no chairs could be placed along city-owned property until the morning of the parade. That obviously had people thinking that no chairs could be put out at all along Ford Street. All I could envision were rashes of fist fights the morning of the parade while people competed for seats.

What officials really meant was no chairs in front of City Hall or on any other property the city maintains, which in the grand scheme of things is just a couple of places. I’m glad the city clarified its stance, although I figure if people have been allowed to do something for a few decades without causing a huge problem, they should be allowed to continue doing it.

The second was a policy barring children under 16 from using the city pool without adult supervision. City Council thankfully undid that policy, changing the age in need of supervision to 12 and under. It sounds like a few bad apples have caused some problems, but that shouldn’t result in all youngsters being penalized. There are plenty of other young teens who don’t cause trouble and just want a place to cool off. The pool’s lifeguards should be trained on how to handle trouble makers. If they can’t handle it, the city should consider seeking an adult volunteer to supervise. The last thing the city should do is restrict access to the pool, especially with the heat we’ve had lately.

Money From 20 Megawatts

I was dismayed to learn that a proposal championed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will not allow the St. Lawrence River Redevelopment Agency access to the proceeds from the sale of its unused low-cost power allocation. A separate board, to be appointed by the governor, would have control of the money and a say in what happens to it. We would have no say in who is on that board, where they come from or what they do with the money.

That is absolutely ridiculous. The River Agency’s 20 megawatts and $16 million were granted by the New York Power Authority to help compensate us for the bad deal we got in the 2003 relicensing for the St. Lawrence-FDR power project compared to the peach of a deal Western New York got in its Niagara relicensing settlement. Proceeds from the sale of any of the power not being used for economic development should benefit us in whatever way our officials deem appropriate.

It’s becoming pretty clear that Gov. Cuomo doesn’t think he needs Northern New York to win re-election. He has already created a lot of bad blood over the SAFE Act and the OMH plan to gut the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center. This latest bad idea just adds insult to traumatic injuries. I hope the River Agency can get somebody in Albany to listen to reason.

Seaway Festival

Ogdensburg is again abuzz with the sights and sounds of Seaway Festival. Founder’s Day weekend continues today at Lighthouse Point. Anybody who likes explosions, boats, and battle re-enactments, pretty much anybody with a pulse, should check it out. The schedule is in today’s paper, along with a schedule of everything else the weeklong festival has in store. There is a lot of fun to be had, so get out and have it.

While you’re at it, if you see a volunteer selling Seaway Festival buttons, buy a couple or five. The festival’s events aren’t cheap, and the festival needs the community’s support so it can keep bringing us quality entertainment and activities as it has for the last 52 years.

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