Sunday, May 17, 2015

TWF 264: The Weekly Freeporter's Retirement!

Greetings,

After five years and two days, I have decided to retire The Weekly Freeporter from publication.  I know this may come as a surprise to my readers, and I believe an accounting for this decision is due to you, but it's a decision I've weighed for some time, and one I've had driven home in the last six months.


The Weekly Freeporter Retires

In November I wrote a review of a shall-remain-nameless Italian restaurant, as that article had to be taken down.  I had expected that my distaste in its food and service would be met with a great deal of vitriol to match; I'm no stranger to insults on my facebook wall.  I did not expect to receive more than one insult-laden phone call to my home, however.  Undue attacks were hurled at those I love.  I won't get into the personal details of what these calls meant, but it left an impression.

I know I've lost friends over Freeport politics, before.  I know I've had people call my integrity into question, claiming I was a shill for the campaign against Andrew Hardwick.  If I was, I would most certainly be sitting pretty at Village Hall instead of looking for a complete career overhaul.  But phone calls to my home over one article?  Well, just the other night I got a public dressing-down over another, this time from someone I considered a friend.

It's not worth it, anymore.

This has been a difficult decision to make, and I have a lot of mixed up feelings over it.  I've always cherished my readership, probably more than it's worth cherishing it.  Maybe I'd hoped that someone would speak up and acknowledge that TWF has existed for five years, yet nobody did.  I suppose that's selfish, but that's about as honest as I'm going to get.

Before I finish this article, I would like to encourage you all to vote on the school budget as well as to vote for school board Trustee on the Tuesday, May 19th.

With that said, I am officially retired.  I will keep this article, all previous articles, and my facebook pages up for at least a few more days before I decide whether to take them down.  Thank you for everything!  It was quite the ride.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

TWF 262: Earlene Hooper - Traffic Cameras and a Freeport Obsession

Greetings,

Today is going to be one of those long, not-at-all Nautical Mile Festival-related posts.  I can't promise you fun, unless your sense of "fun" is in learning about the political machinations, obsessions, and downright insanities of a sitting member of New York State's government, in particular one who sits representing Freeport.

I am talking about Earlene Hooper, Democratic representative from the 18th district who, according to her official Biography, not only attended my Alma Mater of Adelphi University but who also serves as Deputy Speaker of the State Assembly of New York.  Not according to her biography, she might either be Freeport's number-one arch enemy or, depending on how you read her, simply trying to do the right thing for her constituents whether they like it or not.

Her official picture, as per her official biography!


This article will investigate past encounters between her and Freeport, but it is not by any stretch a rabidly anti-Hooper "hit piece."  I will be doing research-as-I-write, meaning my opinion isn't even formed as I type this.  For older issues which I wrote about, I will be referring mostly to this publication's previous articles; the relevant research and sources for my conclusions can be found, there.  I'm saying this in advance of any arguments that I am simply making things up; I am not, since every bill or appearance is backed up by facts, all of which are derived from Hooper's own, raw deeds.

First of all, I will examine the current hot-button issue (installing red-light and other traffic cameras in Freeport); next, I will talk about how this makes her look with respect to her history in dealing with Freeport.

I will be forthcoming, however:  I do not anticipate a warm outcome.


NY Bill A05674:  Red Light Cameras In Freeport

First and foremost:  I would like to send you a direct link to the New York State Assembly's website pertaining to Bill A08675, proposed by Earlene Hooper on 3/3/2015.  This bill is politely titled, and I quote directly from the text, here:  

"An act to amend the vehicle and traffic law and the public officers law, in relation to owner liability for failure of operator to comply with traffic control indications; and providing for the repeal of such provisions upon expiration thereof"

Okay, so what the hell does that mean?  Well, I'm not going to simply cut-and-paste the entire bill, here.  The stated purpose uses clearly fear-mongering language when it talks about reducing deaths.  Sure, any law might reduce deaths, but any action or inaction might cause them, too.  So let's talk about what the bill will actually do...

"The bill authorizes the villages of Freeport and Hempstead to adopt a
local law or ordinance to establish a demonstration program imposing
monetary liability on vehicle owners for an operator's failure to
comply with traffic-control signals at up to fifteen intersections at
anyone time within and under the jurisdiction of the Villages of
Freeport and Hempstead. Such demonstration program would be for a
period of five years."

Okay.  The way this particular paragraph is written,  it gives Freeport and Hempstead the right to come up with its own laws on an issue!  Sounds good!  I mean, y'know, within the 15-intersection limit.  And what is a "demonstration program imposing monetary liability on vehicle owners?"  Does that mean we're hiring more police?!  SWEET!  For reasons I have been dying to get into, I'm super-proud of our police department right now.  More cops here would actually not be a bad thing (unlike, say, in just about any state in the South).

But...No.  The third paragraph spells out what Hooper is really suggesting, and it gets scary, fast.

"...that photographs produced by such violation-monitoring systems do not       include images identifying the driver, passengers or contents of a vehicle, and are exempt from FOIL recorded images."

Now, it's clear what we're talking about:  We're talking about "allowing" Freeport to come up with a program to place fifteen red light cameras at various intersections in town.  Okay.  Okay!  And maybe, MAYBE this "exempt from FOIL recorded images" line is for the protection of a motorist, so that a third party cannot get hold of the images.  As opposed to, say, the accused demanding to see the images supposedly proving they've run a red light.  That's an incredibly vague way to write a bill, and as we'll see I believe there's a certain deliberate nature behind Hooper's way of writing this and other bills.  I digress.

Let us deliberately and consciously ignore the questions, "how much will each fine be?" and "what are my rights to defend against an accusation?"  I mean, it's not like traffic violation cameras in Nassau County have ever gone completely and horribly wrong, right?

Let's focus on where the money collected from us well-behaved Freeport taxpayers will be going, shall we?

"The bill requires that all fines and penalties collected under the
demonstration program shall be deposited into a separate designated
account and shall not be commingled with any other monies in custody
of the village treasurer. Of the monies collected through the program,
15 percent shall be for expenses incurred in connection with the
program; 15 percent for village real property tax relief; and 70
percent for village youth and senior services."

Suddenly, something starts to sound very screwed up to those of us who have been following Earlene Hooper's career regarding the "youth."  Let's set aside that 70% of revenue:  15% of the revenue goes to whoever might be administering the program; say, a private company which may be selective in who it actually sends tickets to, perhaps based on the "whitelist" principles of security.  I mean, it's not as if the constitutionality of red light cameras are being hotly debated right now, right?  Oh, and that link will also take you to proof that, in general, these cameras aren't safety-enhancing.  I digress, again.  I also seemingly crave repetition.

Another 15% of the revenue for these cameras which New York State will so generously allow us to build will go to Freeport!  Hurray!  We get 15% of every ticket!  But wait:  As John Oliver points out, municipal violations are often a way of shifting the tax burden from one group of people to another (Yes, this video is long):



So Freeport gets 15% of each ticket sent out, but assuming it's a Freeporter getting ticketed the recipient of a questionably-legal ticket still loses 100%.  We already have issues with attracting business to the Nautical Mile (See:  Debatably-useful One-Way Streets and poorly implemented parking meters.), a part of town which would serve as a cash-hungry person's delicious appetizer.  The main course, however, would be Atlantic, Merrick, and Sunrise Highway, the three east-to-west traffic arteries in town.  Even when we get an outsider with our tickets, we're still only getting 15% of the money.  Will that money go to compensate business owners who lose out because people avoid Freeport in favor of other towns - or areas of our town, at least - without the cameras?  I don't believe that's the case with the parking meters currently beating up on Mile businesses, but I could be wrong!

So, now we're back to that 70% Hooper wants to go to "Village youth and senior services."  On the surface of this, who could complain!  Silly me, I've been looking at this wrong:  We're getting 85% of the still-not-quite-ethical cash!  But, wait...Remember how I said that studying Hooper's voting history regarding Freeport raises a lot of questions about this?


Earlene Hooper's Mad Freeport Obsession

Honestly, I've written so many articles questioning Earlene Hooper's train-of-thought regarding Freeport that it borders on pummeling a horse skeleton with a two-by-four.  Not only is it not getting up to walk around, but it's a defenseless goddamn horse in the first place!  Maybe that's the nature of blogging?

I'm digressing, again.

Let's begin with when I first met Earlene Hooper, back on June 11, 2010, when she appeared with ex-Mayor Andrew Hardwick in an obscure film about building an incinerator in Freeport to turn "Garbage Into Gold."  About 24 hours after Hardwick swore he wasn't going through with it, Hooper's endorsement letter came to light, which I realize sounds like a bad Simpsons plot-line, but I assure new readers was a real thing.

In that article, as well as in this one written in January 2012 about a lawsuit, I refer to a bill colloquially called the "Hooper Bill," one which was designed with the intent to allow a Mayor to circumvent civil service rules in order to hand-select a new police chief.  At least, with many years of distance between then and now, that's what the debate amounted to.  It's a debate which Hooper lost.

Speaking of debates, there is the still-ongoing debate over what to do with the Freeport Armory.  I recently did an entire review of the issue, so I'll summarize the full article:  Earlene Hooper has been attempting to get New York State to transfer a rather strategic (especially Post-Sandy) property to the Village of Freeport for one dollar.  Each of these transfers has, to my eye, been rather dubiously constructed:  The language involved in specifying the Armory's use is incredibly vague, and most recently (and notably!) mandated that the property be ceded primarily to the Cedermore Corporation. That means, ugh, I have to answer the question, "Who is the Cedermore Corporation, and what do they have to do with this?"

They put on events like the Freeport Farmers Markets you see at the Recreation Center, which is a cool thing!  Guidestar, a charity-rating organization, notes that they're missing some feedback, but it seems like feedback that only a larger, multi-state non-profit might require.  A couple of Google searches and other inquiries do not reveal any obvious or even implied connections between the Hooper and Cedermore, other than that she specifically targeted them as a recipient for the Armory.


The Conclusion

So, what is it really that's going on with this bill?  Rumors are flying that Cedermore will benefit greatly from any red light camera revenue going to "youth programs," but there's no factual backing to this claim:  Freeport is setting up this fund, and unless there is something concealed in the language of the bill that I failed to read, there is no pre-selected recipient for these hypothetical funds.  The 70% of ticket revenue could just as easily be fed into an opposing program; if Freeport wanted to spite Hooper, it could figure out which company Hooper wanted to donate to and give it to that company's arch-rival!

Does this mean Hooper is simply being a philanthropist, planning to use Freeporters (and Hempsteaders) and those who drive through Freeport (and Hempstead) who (possibly) violate traffic laws as unwilling donors?  Perhaps.  I'm certainly not opposed to paying taxes for the privilege of a thing called "government," and I'm even willing to pitch in for some perks and benefits.  However, I absolutely abhor the intellectual dishonesty it requires to say, "Well, we aren't gonna raise taxes, but we're gonna fine people for doing something supposedly unsafe, even if that makes it unsafe-er."

Does this mean Hooper has a vendetta against Freeport?  Well, Freeport has a history of being loud - and, of that, I'm proud!  I know I'm not alone in roundly criticizing her, and I know I'm probably her gentlest critic.  Freeport has mustered some significant resistance to her re-election runs, at times!  So, to that, I can only say, "perhaps she does."  It certainly seems that she does not "get" Freeport.  It could be argued she simply doesn't care what we think, that we are no more or less important to her than any other easily-ignored group of opponents.

Another claim I've heard is that Hooper is going to get "kickbacks" from the company that operates the proposed red light cameras.  This certainly wouldn't be the first time kickbacks occur in our government's history!  I can't find any proof that Hooper will get one red cent from this; then again, politicians often leave politics and find themselves "hard work" like a little pass-time called "lobbying."  As a lobbyist, Hooper could well end up working for the company that lands the red light camera contract, or Cedermore, or both!  Or, y'know, neither.

Ultimately, my conclusion on approaching five years of dealing with Hooper is this:  She most certainly does not seem to have our best interests in mind, at least the interests of those who speak against her.  She might truly be invested in social welfare, but I cannot bring myself to trust anyone who sincerely thought, based on no science whatsoever, that an incinerator in Freeport was a good idea.  I think she should do what I would advise Andrew Hardwick or any other defeated-and-maligned political official to do:  Go on vacation, spend at least a year in the woods and find out who you really are; figure out what you should have done all those times you messed up; then, if you want to run again, tell us specifically how we will hold you accountable for it and maybe I'll consider it.

At least Hardwick got step one right, even if he's currently getting a cushy ride from Hempstead's tax base thanks to their school board!  Alas, I do not live in Hempstead (though I did, for some time, and I truly sympathize with them), so I will end this tale here.


Jesse Pohlman is a freelance writer from Freeport, New York.  His website is www.jessepohlman.com, where you can check out other articles he's written.  He also publishes science fiction novels at Amazon!