Thursday, August 30, 2012

Oneida Route 5 project has poor cost/benefit ratio

The new sidewalk passes through the place NAPA's been using for parking.
Oneida Mayor Don Hudson’s guest column in Tuesday’s edition made an important point.

He noted how the construction has made it difficult for businesses along Route 5 and suggested we all make a point to stop in and patronize them.

Hear, hear; the man makes sense.

But he’s also a politician, and left out some other facts that deserve saying:

The state’s Route 5 project was poorly conceived and will do little to improve the flow of traffic through Oneida.

Construction signs often say, “Temporary inconvenience; permanent improvement.” In this case, the inconvenience has been too long and the improvement, while permanent, is negligible.

How many of us used to travel along Route 5 and say, “What a wonderful stretch of road this would be if it only had sidewalks.”

There were lots of problems with that road, and the lack of sidewalks wouldn’t have made most people’s top five.

A couple of weeks ago I was traveling on the road to the auto parts store in the Glenwood Shopping Plaza.

My Jeep was hard to start on damp mornings, so I figured I’d replace the distributor cap and perhaps the ignition wires in an attempt to cure the problem.

I don’t do much mechanical work, so I rarely patronize any auto parts store. But I shopped at the Advance Auto Parts store before; I received good service, so I was returning.

But here I was, stopped in bumper-to-bumper traffic through the construction zone and noticed there was the NAPA auto parts store to my left. I quickly left Route 5 and pulled into a parking space at the NAPA store.

As I climbed out of my Jeep, I noticed something odd. I’d parked in one of the store’s clearly marked spaces, but I was also parked across the new sidewalk.

The state built the new sidewalk right through the store’s prime parking spaces; a pedestrian walking along the sidewalk would have to walk around my Jeep.

In case you’re interesested. NAPA did have what I needed, and it appears replacing the distributor cap (and the rotor) may have cured my problem. I haven’t decided whether or not to replace the wires.

Which (at last) brings us back to the mayor’s message.

The Route 5 businesses have been through a tough time. I’m sure many of us will make a point of shopping there when we can.

But what about the city?

I assume the city will work with the business owners as they reconfigure their parking areas. After all, the wonderful new sidewalks weren’t there when the buildings’ site plans were drawn.

The real question is: Will the city police be ticketing our vehicles for driving on the sidewalk or parking on the sidewalk when we do stop at these businesses?

There are many who say “the law is the law,” and oppose ever bending the rules. Others believe government should use discretion and sometimes strictly following the rules is the wrong course of action.

What do you think?

Should the Oneida City Police strictly enforce the parking laws in this area or tend to let things slide?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Bath salts event Saturday

It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how much we learn, there’s always so much more to know.
Take drugs... Or rather, take the subject of drugs. I thought I knew a lot about drugs. Over the years, I’ve done ride-alongs on police drug raids and spent a weekend with the staff in a hospital ER. I’ve talked to undercover narcs, emergency room physicians, drug dealers and marijuana growers.
Like most people who went to school in the 1970s, I knew a lot of people who used a variety of recreational drugs.
But this bath salts epidemic has been a major learning experience for me.
As an untested and ever-changing product of shadowy labs, we only know that this “designer drug” is strong and its effects are unpredictable.
As both a stimulant and a hallucinogen, users can do irrational things, harming themselves or others. It’s long-term effects are completely unknown.
As our excellent coverage by reporters Caitlin Traynor and Jolene Cleaver has shown, this drug has been straining local police and medical workers and will also strain taxpayers, who will be stuck with the check.
I’ve learned a lot over the past few weeks, but I want to learn more.
I will be at our Community Media Lab presentation at noon on Saturday. Please come if you can, even if you didn’t register.
Lee Livermore of the Upstate New York Poison Control Center will talk about the latest on bath salts and the other new synthetic drugs, and how to recognize their effects and their packaging.
His organization has been at the forefront in educating medical workers and police; he has a lot to offer all concerned residents, especially parents.
If you can’t come, we’ll be streaming the one-hour over the Internet, so you can watch it live or watch it later.
There are other other opportunities to learn more on this important subject. I expect each event to have a bit different focus, and of course, this newspaper has made plans to cover them all. They are:

Verona, Aug. 13
There will be a forum on bath salts and methamphetamine at 6 p.m. at the Verona Fire Hall, 5555 Volunteer Ave.
A panel of experts will include officials from the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office, Capt. Frank Coots of the New York State Police, Rick Johnson of the Sylvan Beach Fire Department, and Bill Vineall of Vineall Ambulance.
Councilman Fred Scherz Jr. is organizing the event.
For more information call Scherz at 363-3509 or email

Chittenango, Aug. 13
Sullivan Free Library will host an information session on bath salts and synthetic marijuana at 6:30 p.m. at the library, 101 Falls Blvd.
Gretchen Slater of BRiDGES, Madison County Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, will present a program on synthetic drugs, how they are used, what the effects are and how to deal with a person suspected of using them.
For information call the library at 687-6331.

Oneida, Aug. 21
The Drug Free Task Force of Madison County’s Promise will host a community-wide forum on the synthetic drug bath salts at 6 p.m. at the Oneida High School Auditorium.
Panelists include Dr. Janet McMahon, an emergency department physician at Oneida Healthcare; Madison County Sheriff Allen Riley; James Yonai, director of Madison County Mental Health Department; Madison County District Attorney William Gabor; Dr. Alexander Garrard, a clinical toxicologist for Upstate Poison Control; and Susan Jenkins, executive director of BRiDGES.
Following the panel discussion, the program will be opened to the public for questions.
The program is expected to last at 90 minutes; however, no time limit has been set.
The event is free and open to the public. There is no need to pre-register.
For more information, call 315-697-3947.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Politics in Oneida?

Every time we see one of these signs, my son, George, says something about it being a political sign. It's become a standing joke with us.
I took this photo August 7 on Lenox Ave. in Oneida.

Monday, August 6, 2012

I love letters to the editor

This is the boilerplate we print every day in the paper 
My mother always told me I’d never receive letters if I didn’t send out some myself.
Mom was wise and almost always right, but not about this.
Of course she never knew I’d end up editor of a newspaper. I receive lots of letters from lots of people, yet I send few.
We were talking in the office the other day about letters to the editor and realized not everyone has a clear idea of what we publish and what we don’t; we print the guidelines every day, but a fuller explanation will make things clearer. Here goes:
Length: We allow 500 words. It’s a space issue. But it’s also good for the writer; people are more likely to read a letter that gets to the point.
Election letters: The Saturday before the election is the last day we’ll run them. And then it’s only “positive” letters that endorse your candidate. If you want to write a letter saying people should vote for your candidate because the other one’s no good, that’s OK (within reason), but you’ll have to submit it (and have it verified) by the Wednesday before the election to give the other side time to refute it. In other words, no last-minute sandbagging.
Guest columns: Public officials, political candidates and representatives of groups are invited to submit guest columns with prior arrangement. With all the invitations I’ve extended, it seems public officials are only interested around election time. Isn’t it always important to keep constituents in the loop? Guess not. There is no hard and fast word limit, but again shorter is usually better and it has to fit on the page. This is not a refuge for people who simply can’t limit themselves to 500 words.
Name-calling: There may be a fine line between saying a person is an idiot and saying the person is doing something idiotic, but I’ve got to find that line. We won’t publish statements we deem as racist, hateful or compare someone to Hitler or other Nazis. If you submit such a letter, expect to get a call from me suggesting another wording that can be printed to make your point.
Local: We welcome letters from local people or about local topics. If you’re in Montana or Madrid and you want to send a letter about the euro, abortion or global warming, we probably won’t print it.
Facts: This is a tough one. When I receive a letter with an obvious fact error, I’ll usually call the writer or just correct it. But that doesn’t mean I’ll have the reporters drop everything to research a letter’s claims. The saying goes, “You have a right to your own opinion, but not your own facts,” but in our polarized society, we often see each side using a different set of facts that are accurate if you look at it their way. Bottom line, letters aren’t held to the same standard as news stories. Take everything you see there with a large grain of salt.
Thank you: We won’t print letters from individuals that are just a polite bread-and-butter thank-you. We offer “card of thanks” ads for that purpose, and we’ve recently reduced their price. If you aren’t willing to spend a couple of dollars, really, how grateful are you? Just send a note directly to the nurses on the third floor. We will, however, print thank-you letters from charities or civic organizations.
Frequency: One letter published per calendar month. This sometimes means someone will have two letters a week apart, but it’s the only way we can keep track of it. And if you send your letter in on the few days of the month, you risk it not being published until next month. Sorry; please send it in earlier next time.
Names: Except in the rarest of occasions, we always print the name and town of the author. There’s about one exception every five years (a mom who lived across the street from a park where drug dealing was going on, a woman who was taking refuge in a battered women’s shelter, a rape survivor and a bullied teen come to mind). We won’t print an anonymous letter simply because someone’s uneasy about having his or her name in the paper.
A few more guidelines:
• When we receive a bunch of letters from a boilerplate letter-writing campaign, we’ll rarely print them all.
• We’ll fix spelling, grammar and style errors we catch.
• Letters aren’t first-come, first served. We’ll generally publish letters on current local controversies faster than national topics or thank-yous. Length and how they fit on the page is always a factor.
• While we’re strict on the 500-word limit, we’re liberal in the way we count the words. “To The Editor” and your name don’t count. If you write “Oneida Indian Nation” or “Madison County,” I’ll count each of them as one word, since they’re each one thing.
• If your letter is way too long, you may cut it or you can have me cut it. What I won’t do is go back and forth cutting it together. I’ve done that and it can take the whole afternoon.
These are all guidelines, not rules. I’ve been known to step outside them when it’s in the interest of the readers as a whole -- rare but it happens. It’s folly to think anyone can write rules to cover every case.
I will admit to one prejudice. I’m partial to having lots of letters; I want readers to see The Dispatch as a forum where people hash out decisions in which we all have a stake. This is accomplished by publishing letters I do and don’t agree with. Letters draw more letters.
Keep those cards and letters (and emails) coming; it’s one of my favorite parts of the job.

Friday, August 3, 2012

What's with this at Route 5?

They tell me one sign of getting older is the failure to notice changes in your evironment.
When I was headed from Oneida to Canastota today, I was turning right onto Route 5 from Lenox Avenue (Route 365a), at the Five Corners by Walmart, when I noticed the no-right-turn-on-red sign.
I never saw it before. I know I've been through that intersecton recently (though I may well have  had a green light).
I always found it difficult to turn right there on red, since you had to look way back over your shoulder to see traffic coming; it was especially hard in my Jeep with its small windows.
In fact, as I approached the intersection, I'd always come in way to the left, then turn sharply to the right at the traffic light line before stopping. It gave me an angle to see the traffic coming on Route 5 in my mirror.
How long has that sign been there?
Was it put there at the same time the speed limit was lowered on Lenox Avenue?
More importantly, did we publish anything about it?
I'd love to know.

The Five Corners intersection in Oneida today.