I’m probably the only resident of Taghkanic who was excited about the power outage late this afternoon: at last, the generator I had installed last year is getting some exercise. (The hail that just started is a little less welcome.) Anyway, below is the link to National Grid’s outage map for the area:
As first reported here, voter turnout for Tuesday’s Democratic Congressional primary contest between Julian Schreibman and Joel Tyner was dismal. Fewer than 1 in 10 registered Democrats bothered to participate in the new 11-county 19th District.
That sub-10% figure also applied to Democrats here in Columbia County. Below is a town-by-town chart of how each municipality in the County did, turnout-wise, correlating Board of Elections tallies and voter registration data obtained last March:
Remarkably, County Democratic Chair Cyndy Hall characterized these numbers as a “tremendous victory” for her party committee... If 9 out of 10 voters staying home is a tremendous victory, one wonders what a tremendous failure would look like.
UPDATE: Primaries 0f course tend to attract fewer voters than general elections. However, as a point of reference showing how poor Tuesday’s turnout was: More than 550 Democrats voted in the 2011 primary between Nick Haddad and Linda Mussmann; but this week, fewer than 150 voters cast ballots in Hudson.
I had NYAir out this morning to see if they could solve my longstanding internet headaches. I found out about them at random, via a billboard on Route 9H, en route to getting my car serviced at Kinderhook Toyota. Normally I pay no attention to such roadside blandishments, but being starved for web access here at the last stop on the covered wagon trail to Taghaknic, I’m ready to explore just about any option.
Over the past few years I’ve looked into almost every conceivable internet service possibility—from MHcable, which wanted nearly $2,000 for the privilege of being hooked up, after they returned a huge rural broadband grant—to wireless hotspots to satellite. During that process I’ve dealt with all kinds of horribly unhelpful and ill-informed customer disservice reps at HughesNet and elsewhere, so I was delighted to get someone on the phone right away at NYAir, and an appointment within 48 hours.
“If our guy verifies that you have a line-of-sight to our tower,” I was told, “he can install it on the spot.”
NYAir is a WISP, which stands for Wireless Internet Service Provider. That means they connect a broadcaster on a tower to a high-speed connection, which can be picked up by people with antennas who have a line-of-sight to the tower. After testing the signal out extensively, it was determined that I do have a workable north-westward sightline toward one of their towers. After much debate (by me) about where to mount the antenna, I decided to give it a whirl.
The key advantage here, in comparison with satellite internet providers like HughesNet and WildBlue, or Mi-Fi hotspots such as those offered by Verizon and AT&T, is the absence of any usage limitations. For me, that’s huge. Satellite services limit your daily bandwidth, and 3G networks limit your monthly capacity, both cutting you off entirely or slowing your connection to a crawl once you hit the limit. With NYAir, I now should be able to download large files, buy or stream movies online, and so forth, without that ever-present concern about running up against “Fair Access Policy” limits. That was basically impossible for me with Hughes, whose service made it basically impossible to watch even half of an HD movie online without paying for $10 “restore” tokens.
The setup was extremely easy once their patient technician found the optimal height and direction to aim the antenna. It’s about 4 feet long but narrow, with flanges protruding about 6 inches, available in silver or black—less obtrusive than my existing Hughes dish. It mounts on a simple post attached to a wall or roof, and then an ethernet line is run into the house.
I chose their Premium plan at $55 per month. That may sound like a lot to some, but it’s far less than the whopping fees I’ve been paying to HughesNet for much worse alleged “business” class service. I’ll recoup the installation cost of $300 with no commitment or $200 for a one-year commitment within just a couple of months after I cancel my month-to-month satellite plan. (I’ll give it a few weeks, to make sure NYAir is really all it’s cracked up to be.)
The Premium plan offers speeds up to 2 Mbps download and 768 kbps upload, which is comparable to or even better than what I’ve obtained from Hughes, and that only with extreme haggling and frequent tech nightmares. (People who have DSL or cable modems will scoff at such speeds, but again I’m stuck in the boonies here, with limited options.) I was able to verify those speed via various online resources on the first try. They also have cheaper plans, but it’s certainly worth an extra $10 per month for double the speed. I can’t see any reason not to go with their Premium option, which is identical to their Business plan.
My technician said that their towers can in theory broadcast to antennas as much as 20 miles away. The issue is rarely whether one is close enough to one of their broadcasters, but whether one can get a line of sight to it. Terrain is the key factor, along with trees. (I may have to do some pruning once the leaves come on.)
It’s only been an hour since I got this, but so far I’m delighted. I will save a ton of money, and not be limited in my usage. It’s possible I’ll discover some major downside to the service, but from what I’ve researched about it, the ease of setup, and the speeds I’m getting out of the box, I’m thrilled thus far.
A couple of tech notes for those who care:
With NYAir you can also, for an extra $10 per month, get a Static IP address.
Their current system operates over 900 Mhz. If they eventually upgrade to WiMax, speeds and coverage should increase. They already offer VOIP, but that is probably not a reliable option until/unless they upgrade to WiMax, from what I’ve gathered.
In theory, service from a WISP should be less susceptible to weather than satellite internet, but fog and rain can have some impact on speeds. I don’t expect, however, to ever completely lose connection with their tower as one sometimes does with satellite.
NYAir has a simple service area map on their site, which shows locations where they have customers already. But it will definitely require a (free) visit to find out for sure whether you can connect with them.
NYAir is a subsidiary or affiliate of Surferz.net, which for many years provided dial-up to local residents. From what I can tell, they are “backhauling” their signal from MHcable’s internet backbone, i.e. paying MHcable for bandwidth which NYAir then broadcasts to their own customers, much as WildBlue buys time on satellites from Hughes.
Issues often seem to come in bunches in rural towns. The Town of Ghent, which had been struggling in recent years with the Molinari gravel mine project, also now has a controversy over motocross racing at Meadowgreens, which has gone forward despite decisions reaffirming that such uses are not permitted by the zoning code. (The Town’s code was adopted, by the way, some 40 years ago, when there was nary a weekender in Ghent; but that hasn’t stopped some from playing the usual us vs. them cards.)
Meanwhile, a separate group called Protect Ghent has sprung up to address another pressing issue: a proposal by New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG) to string a high-voltage power line on high towers across the Town. The proposed zig-zag route would run through farms owned by longtime residents, past historic resources, and through several large landholdings such as Francis Greenburger’s Art Omi.
Protect Ghent has posted a handy Google Map showing NYSEG’s proposed route, which would involve clearcutting a 50-to-150-foot swath from east to west, and potentially placing one or more substations on private property. An obvious question arises: Why not take the most direct route possible, to impact the fewest neighbors?
The answer would appear to involve a bit of regulatory sleight-of-hand. By law, if such lines are shorter than 10 miles, local towns gain some oversight of the project, and thus the ability to modify or prevent the line from going through at all. But if they are longer than 10 miles, the central permitting responsibility lies instead with New York’s Public Service Commission (PSC). Protect Ghent says it has a low-voltage alternative, and has hired attorney Bill Hurst to represent their interests following an organizational meeting several weeks ago.
This confluence of controversies in Ghent got me thinking about how issues often seem to crop up in bunches in our towns. If your town has a racetrack issue, you’ve probably also got a mining issue. If you have a cement plant issue, you probably also have a corruption issue—and a tax assessment issue, and an open government issue, and about seven other issues.
I tend to doubt that some bad karma, or mystic aligning of dark stars, accounts for issues coming all at once in small towns. The reality is that every place has its problems. But many short-term or institutionalized local problems stay under the radar until people mobilize to do something about one of them.
Once citizens get activated on on thing, they start to notice all the other things that are amiss, from ingrained problems with their local government, to proposals which appear quietly in the legal notices. They learn how zoning and planning regulations work (or don’t work). They educate themselves about their State’s open meetings laws and freedom of information acts. They put their local reps’ numbers on speed dial, and encourage neighbors to attend meetings.
Soon enough, they realize that politics is often at the root of the problem. So then they start registering new people to vote, explaining to existing voters why it’s so crucial to turn up at the polls, and demonstrating to everyone why it’s essential to pay attention to what happens in Town Hall.
They often also begin asking more fundamental questions: How did these issues arise in the first place? What safeguards and tools do we have? And where do we want to go in the future—both to prevent further controversies, and to take responsibility for bettering the places we live in.
Some of these converging issues may involve compatible groups, or competing ones. But one set of citizens’ willingness (or proven ability) to make progress on one issue tends to inspires others to be less apathetic about their own.
But it’s that first issue which turns on people’s radar, and makes everyone realize how little real adult supervision there is most places. If you want to live in a safe, healthy, vibrant community, the burden of responsibility falls as much or more on “ordinary” citizens than on local government or big name institutions, both of which are often the last to recognize a problem as it develops.
(In the case of the massive, coal-fired new industrial city proposed in the late 90s by St. Lawrence Cement, pretty much every “major” institution in the region, from local government and development agencies, from the Chamber of Commerce to the Business Council, from the Columbia Land Conservancy to Scenic Hudson, either ignored the problem or even cheerleaded for the project for several years, until grassroots citizens forced everyone to reconsider through sustained, tenacious research and organizing.)
Hudson 3rd Ward Supervisor Ellen Thurston has been known to say that Hudson’s slogan should be: We’ve Got Issues! There’s a general sense among some residents that Hudson is more troubled or turbulent than other municipalities in the area. But if you turn over a rock most anywhere in the County, you’re going to find some worms. Taghkanic was an epicenter of problems for several years, from the Wilzing Racing Manor to Republican vote suppression antics to the Berry Pond mining proposal. Right now in Ghent, a lot of the same rocks are starting to get pried up.
Word is that the counting of Hudson absentee and affidavit ballots will now occur on Monday, the soonest that Bill Hallenbeck’s attorney Giff Whitbeck is available.
With just 27 votes separating Hallenbeck and his mayoral opponent, Nick Haddad, there are an estimated 220-225 absentee and affidavit ballots to be considered, though 10-20% of those could prove invalid. Ballots for the Hudson race only came out of their impoundment yesterday, with recanvassing of the Hudson results and logging of the poll book information and affidavit ballots taking place yesterday. (The Board of Elections has to first verify the election night results, and also review the books to make sure no one who submitted an absentee ballot also voted on the machine on November 8th.)
Ballots for other close races in Claverack, Greenport, Hillsdale and Taghkanic will likely hit the tables today (Tuesday) and presumably will be complete before Thanksgiving.
The already-slow pace of the counts has been further reduced by the existence of a super-tight judicial race between Republican Catherine “Kiki” Cholakis and Democrat Ray Elliott, with lawyers for each observing counts in every town in a seven-county area.
According to data obtained via Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request from the Columbia County Board of Elections, as of Thursday afternoon:
183 voters had returned absentee ballots;
65 others had not (yet) returned their ballots;
1 voter cast an “affidavit” ballot on Election Day.
None of these have been opened yet. Of those voters who have returned their absentee ballot:
102 are Democrats;
32 are Republicans;
32 are “independents” not affiliated with any party.
12 are Independence Party members;
3 are Conservatives;
1 is a Working Families Party member; and
1 is a Green.
That said, party affiliation sometimes isn’t a very reliable predictor of how voters may lean in local elections. In addition:
20 of these ballots were picked up and delivered to voters by Linda Mussmann, who was circulating a sample ballot for Hallenbeck on Election Day; and
4 ballots were “carried” by former Democratic alderman Lyle Shook, also believed to be a Hallenbeck supporter.
Considering that ballots had to be postmarked by Monday, and the U.S. mails generally arrive within 1-3 days even across the continental U.S., it doesn’t seem likely that very many more (if any) ballots will be received. The BOE does, however, have to wait 10 days, especially to allow any overseas military ballots to come in.
Since the Board was closed today for Veterans Day, no Friday update was available. This site has also been unable (due to a fight instigated by Republicans over where to store the ballots) to verify the Board’s hand-written machine tallies which indicate a slim 27-vote lead for Bill Hallenbeck over Nick Haddad for Mayor. Presumably on Monday, the actual printouts from the electronic vote scanners will be available for inspection. And the Columbia County Board, mainly thanks to Virginia Martin, has a practice of also hand-counting all machine-counted votes, a laborious process but one essential to protecting the integrity of all of our votes.
The Board is expected to begin processing absentee ballots on Friday the 18th, but it is not certain whether they’ll handle towns alphabetically, or do the non-controversial ones first, or address the candidates who are still in suspense first (as in Hudson and Taghkanic). If they don’t get to those towns on the 18th, the wait could extend into the following week.
Plus there is a potential for court challenges, conceivably meaning that some places might not know the identity of their new Mayor or Town Board members until WinterWalk, or later.
This Fall, voters will flock once again to the polls to elect their County Supervisors, Legislators, Aldermen, Town and Village Board members, and other local officials. In schools, town halls, and firehouses, we’ll humbly pull the levers (or, more often lately, feed ballots into an electronic machine). We’ll leave the polling place feeling satisfied that for all its faults, our democratic system still functions as originally intended.
Then, around the first of the year, our freshly-elected officials will take the oath of office. The slogans and promises of their campaigns will still be ringing in our ears... But then the hard work of legislating begins.
After each election cycle, our bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed new legislators face a dizzying array of budgetary constraints, committee assignments, grant applications, lawsuits, FOIL requests, statuatory requirements, upset citizens, motions, seconds, resolutions, and amendments. Just mastering a public body’s Rules of Order can seem like a herculean task.
Into this morass of regs and reqs strolls the Town (or City) attorney. Feeling besieged and even helpless, elected officials turn to their lawyer, for guidance and instruction. On the face of it, that’s necessary and proper. But over time, that need can become a dependence.
If you attend a local government meeting, one usually finds the lawyer—not the elected officials—doing much of the talking. In many towns, even trivial decisions seem to require a legal consultation, including the dreaded retreat into a closed-door “executive session” to discuss legal options out of the public eye.
The effect is to create a system of legislation by lawyer. Roll-call votes are still cast by elected officials. But for anything even remotely controversial, the “call” effectively gets made by their attorney.
Unlike politicians, who typically are built for combat, lawyers are built for compromise. Lawyers (with exceptions) tend to be conservative by nature, in the more traditional meaning of conservative. Deflecting controversy, assuaging governmental clients’ fear of lawsuits, not rocking the boat, protecting political patrons, and keeping their jobs are paramount. This tendency results in the blunting of candidates’ optimistic campaign promises of change, progress and reform. “It’s time for a change” soon becomes "You might get sued if you change that.” Debates center around how to play things legally safe, rather than finding bold, creative solutions.
Moreover, while politicians come and go, attorneys (or at least their firms) tend to stick around. The faces on your local Board or Council may change, but the cast of lawyers rarely does. As insurance against major electoral changes, many firms that rely on the sinecure of municipal work deliberately keep both Democratic and Republican lawyers on their rolls. When the donkeys throw the elephants out, or vice versa, the firm still retains the town’s business. They just swap out the partner from the losing party, and bring in another from the winning side.
Worse, conflicts of interest arise when the same handful of attorneys wear multiple governmental hats. In each county of the Hudson Valley, usually just two or three firms represent most of its constituent towns.
Consider a couple of local examples:
In a jarring 2009 voting rights fight in Columbia County one attorney initially represented both the Town of Taghkanic and the County Board of Elections, whose positions were at odds. At first the lawyer in question argued that his dual role was proper. It took a major public outcry and an ethics complaint to finally force him to pick, grudgingly, one client or the other.
More recently in the City of Hudson, most major decisions about the controversial future of the City’s waterfront have been made privately by the City Attorney and an outside planning firm. A hefty chunk of their work was underwritten by an industrial company with a big stake in the outcome. Meanwhile, consultation with the Hudson Aldermen has been token at best, with months or even years passing without the ostensible "lead agency" being updated on its own plan’s progress. By the time of each sporadic update, so much water (and technical mumbo-jumbo) has gone under the bridge that elected officials have little choice but to take their lawyer’s word for it that her decisions are correct.
Clearly, there are times when legal advice is useful, and even indispensable. But when a municipal lawyer becomes the de facto chief policy-maker, democracy is undermined. So what’s to be done about it?
• First, we need a change of mindset among elected officials, in which legal counsel is sought only when truly necessary, not as a matter of course;
* Second, we need a corresponding change of mindset among attorneys, that they exist to help officials actively achieve their campaign goals, rather than covering their rumps;
* And third, we need term limits for municipal lawyers and firms, so that counsellors don’t become political institutions unto themselves.
Thomas Jefferson once remarked that if we only take action when no lawyer objects, we’ll never take action at all. When left up to lawyers, politics becomes not the art of the possible, but of the impossible.
There are many theories about what the word Taghkanic means, its origins, and its spellings... A widespread belief in the Town is that it means “land of flowing waters” in Mahican. A 1906 State publication has a different interpretation:
Taghkanick, the name of a town in Columbia County and primarily of a tract of land included in the Livingston Patent and located “behind Potkoke,” is written Tachkanick in the Indian deed of 1685; Tachhanick in the Indian deed of 1687-8; “Land called Tachkanick which the owners reserved to plant upon when they sold him Tachhanick, with the land called Quissichkook ;" Tach-kanick, “having the kill on one side and the hill on the other”; Tahkanick (surveyor’ s notation 1715) is positively located by the surveyor on the east side of the kill called by the Indians Saukhenak, and by the purchasers [of] Roelof Jansen’s Kill.
Of the meaning of the name Dr. E. B. O’Callaghan wrote : “Tachanuk, ‘Wood place,’ Literally, ‘the woods,’ from Takone, ‘forest,’ and iik, ‘place’” which Dr. Trumbull regarded as “the least objectionable” of any of the interpretations that had fallen under his notice, and to which he added: “Literally, ‘wild lands,’ ‘forest.’”
It would seem to be more probable that Tachk, Taghk, Tachh, Tahk, etc., represents Tak (Taghk), with formative an, Taghkan, meaning “wood ;” and ek, animate plural added, “Woods,” “trees,” “forest.” Dr. O’ Callaghan’ s ilk (00k), “Land or place,” is not in any of the orthographies.
The deed-sentence, “When they sold him Tachanick,” reads literally, from the name, “When they sold him the woods.” The name was extended to the reserved field, to the stream and to the mountain.* The latter is familar to geologists in what is known as the Taconic rocks. Translations of the name from Del. Tachanne, “Cold stream,” and Tankkanne, “Little river,” are without merit, although Tankhanne would describe the branch of Roelof Jansen’ s Kill on which the plantation was located.
* The purchasers claimed but the Indians denied having sold the mountain. It was heavily wooded no doubt. Livingston claimed it from having bought “the woods.” The Moravian missionaries wrote, in 1744, Wtakantschan, which Dr. Trumbull converted to Ket-takone-wadchu, “Great woody mountain.”
(Not sure that clarifies anything, but it’s something for the record.)
The two incidents of racist graffiti reported here earlier today are not, apparently, the full extent of the spraypainting spree which seems to have begun sometime late Friday night or early Saturday morning in Taghkanic.
Another Taghkanic resident discovered Sunday night that his barn had been vandalized as well, with the crypic message “Yeh... hello.” Equally bizarrely, the words “My house” with an arrow were painted on the road nearby.
The State Police are investigating; the County Sheriffs office apparently did not have an open case on this as of Sunday night. It is unclear who attempted to black out some of the graffiti on the road. (Was it a neighbor who was rightly offended, or a road crew aiming to spare others the offense, or the perpetrators themselves trying to cover their misdeeds after the fact?)
Spraypainted in purple and yellow sometime during the holiday weekend, a* racist graffito materialized on the pavement along a rural stretch of Old Route 82 in Taghkanic, close to the Livingston line.
At least one neighbor reported it to the police early on Saturday. Reports are that it remained untouched all day, but by Sunday brunchtime someone had attempted to partially erase it. (Click here if you really must see a photo of the defaced pavement before it was somewhat covered over; due warning, this includes graphic language.)
Unfortunately, whoever tried to remedy the vandals' crude message appears both to have run out of steam, and also followed the lines of the letters too closely, so that the offensive words remain legible. Lightly resurfacing the whole defaced area would be a more thorough fix.
The two-color, large-scale design would suggest that this took the offender(s)—pimply teenagers, one would suspect, from the childishness of both the act and the handwriting—a fair amount of time to create... Maybe someone saw them in the act. A canvass of area stores to see who was buying purple and yellow spray paint also seems in order.
* UPDATE: Two other neighbors now report a second incident of similar vandalism on County Route 10 near Taghkanic-Churchtown Road, verified in person. These call for a certain type of people to “go to hell,” along with “pigs too.” The second grouping has been mostly covered up, but is still discernible.
UPDATE #2: A barn in the same area was also vandalized; some details can be read here.