Hugh Reynolds: Fireworks and peacocks

The columnist Reynolds.

The columnist Reynolds.

It would appear from a breathless press release last week from Ulster’s county legislature  that nobody got their fingers blown off, eyes put out or had their hair singed or buildings set afire by fireworks over the Independence Day weekend.

That happy outcome came despite dire warnings from firefighters and EMTs against the legislation of sparkler fireworks in Ulster County. “We weren’t any busier than usual,” reported Sam Appa, chief of Ulster Hose No. 5, one of the larger fire companies in the county. “Maybe we just got lucky, but it sure doesn’t change our concerns. If one kid gets hurt by fireworks, it’s one kid too many.”

No doubt, county legislators, all of whom are on the ballot, will express similar sentiments. Hard to tell, though, from the legislative press release last week. “Fireworks sales-tax revenue sparkles in Ulster County,” read the suggested headline, pun apparently intended.

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Nobody yet knows exactly how much sparkle was generated, but sponsors of the enabling legislation like Rich Gerentine of Marlboro seem convinced such could be substantial.

Stories abound about tents being in vacant lots around the county just before the holiday to sell “tens of thousands of dollars” of product over a few days to a clamoring populace. Other outlets prominently advertised their new wares. Some parts of the county resembled the boonies of South Carolina.

If they did say a million dollars in business, Ulster County, at its current 4 percent sales tax rate, would net something on the order of $40,000. In terms government can understand, that equals the salaries without benefits of four county legislators.

There was little effort by the county to alert the public to the dangers of hand-held fireworks (sparklers). According to the legislature’s press release, safety instruction was left to the purveyors of fireworks. “Paper or plastic?”

This proclamation contained a germ of real news. Gerentine, Republican chairman of the legislature’s budget-monitoring Ways & Means Committee, said he was “thrilled the county’s economy will see a boost.” He hoped that “even the county executive will sign on to these simple economy-generating measures.”

The executive, perhaps in the face of dire warnings from an influential and vocal public-safety constituency, had not signed the legislation, approved 14-8 by the legislature in April.

If there had been more instances of injuries or fires, you can bet the firefighting establishment would have loudly reiterated its opposition to the legislation. Calls to county agencies responsible for tracking this kind of information were referred to the County Executive Mike Hein’s office.

Among my numerous Seinfeld-like fears are motorcycles, guns, chainsaws and fireworks. The sight of small children running around my neighbor’s lawn on the Fourth holding sparklers in their little hands had made me cringe. What were their parents thinking? (These were by any definition good parents.)

The legislature’s sparkling report notwithstanding, all hail more fireworks-safe Fourths in the future.

 Peacocks arise

Oh, what a tangled web we weave when we stoop to political intrigue.

It seems this ugly brouhaha over the Junior League of Kingston’s “Peacock Project,” the eminently applaudable feel-good community effort last year to replace aging playground equipment in Kingston’s Forsyth Park last year, just gets worser and worser.

First, the Mayor Shayne Gallo attacked his Democratic primary opponent, Parks & Recreation Department employee Steve Noble, for allegedly messing up the grant application process. Then one of the leaders from the Junior League, which carried out the project, sided with the mayor. Now the Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, who secured a $50,000 state grant for the playground is siding with Noble, calling him in a press release released last week someone who’s “consistently exhibited strong administrative and follow-up skills on those occasions where we have collaborated with individually and in association with Kingston’s Recreation Department.”

Steve Noble. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

Steve Noble. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

If there’s a lesson here for non-profits, many of whom depend on government grants or support, it’s to steer clear of partisan politics.

Meanwhile, at Wednesday night’s Common Council Finance Committee meeting, after beating each other up for an hour, panel members kicked this can down the road, hopefully to land some time after the Sept. 10 Democratic mayoral primary. After much yelling and abuse, they voted 4-2 to hire an independent auditor to review all city grants for the last four years. This at least gave the appearance of not singling out Noble for the kind of gross incompetence the mayor had hoped to prove before their date with destiny in just 55 days.

The meeting was a curious confluence of policy, politics and pettiness. Everybody denied playing politics, even as they stuck fingers in each other’s eyes. What came across to the casual observer was a city system with virtually no rules and little accountability that nonetheless was responsible for applying for and administering millions of dollars in state and federal grants. Aldermen, more intent on making political points, seemed to have no clue. And these people want authority over our water system?

Economic development coordinator Gregg Swanzey, a Gallo appointee who repeatedly asserted he wasn’t playing politics against the man who seeks to return his boss to the private sector, came on as grand inquisitor with a large packet of documents and dire warnings that a fistful of grants worth millions of dollars could be in jeopardy because Noble hadn’t filled out some time sheets. Noble sat against a wall with his own stack of documents to refute Swanzey’s charges. Sitting at the table was Noble’s uncle, Alderman-at-Large Jim Noble, who did his level best to defend his nephew against what he called a political vendetta on the part of the mayor.

Committee Chairwoman Maryann Mills did her level best to conduct an orderly meeting but wound up yelling at “grandstanding” Alderman Matt Dunn to “shut up” or leave. While there were more than a dozen grants under review, aldermen, before they decided to let an unnamed auditor do it, focused on the Kinderland II project, completed last April. Typical of these kinds of meetings, nobody bothers to bring spectators up to speed, but generally speaking Kinderland II was an $180,000 project with about $130,000 in grants. The Junior League raised the necessary matching funds, though league President Beth Hanigan, who brought a lawyer to the finance meeting, told a reporter she couldn’t cite general figures off the top of her head.

Maryann Mills.

Maryann Mills.

What is known is that Herzog’s in the Kingston Plaza advanced some $140,000 in materials for the project and hasn’t been paid. It seems they went ahead without the necessary contracts and sign-offs from granting authorities. “Who’s going to pay Herzog’s?” asked Alderwoman Nina Dawson. Nobody knew.

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I don’t know if Noble, who was promoted to his present position by the mayor he now opposes, is responsible for any or all of this. What is clear is that a lot of well-meaning people have gotten themselves ensnared in some ugly politics.

Fortunately, Kinderland II, which drew on a host of community volunteers beyond Junior League, is up and running, if unpaid for. The larger question is, what happens to the next project?

Better Fred than …

In a town where a changing of the guard also looms, former Ulster supervisor Fred Wadnola seems the insider favorite to succeed retiring three-termer Jim Quigley. Both are Republicans. Quigley was cross-endorsed by Democrats two years ago.

Town Republicans, who hold four of five seats on the town board and a near two-to-one party enrollment edge, figure they can elect anybody supervisor. How’s that work out with young Nick Woerner (twice)?

Wadnola, a retired educator, ran for school board in May, finishing well down the track. Wadnola might have been a bit too inquisitive to pass muster.

I wasn’t able to reach Wadnola, but Quigley and several other sources say they’ve had conversations with the players.

Quigley has yet to make a public pronouncement on Wadnola’s would-be candidacy. He’s known to be no fan of the town’s good-ol’-boy GOP network.