The University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute has just released it’s 2015 report on the rankings of each county in the US on the basis of several health factors and results. Looking at New York State’s counties, we find Monroe County smack-dab in the middle of the pack, with a “health outcome” ranking of 38 out of 62 counties. Other local counties like Wayne and Genesee followed suit, ranking 39 and 40 respectively.

A heat map of health by county.

A heat map of health by county.

This outcomes ranking is based on a number of quality-of-life factors such as sick days and overall length of lives within the county. According to the report, Monroe County health is dragged down by two major issues: low birth weight babies and the reported overall healthiness of individuals living in the county. The study shows 8.4% of babies born in Monroe are underweight and that 17% of respondents report bad health.

Interestingly, our southern rural neighbors fared much better in this study. Ontario and Livingston Counties ranked in the top 10 healthiest counties with Livingston topping the charts for best quality-of-life. The deciding factor for Livingston County’s high ranking appears to have been a lot less reported sick days and mental health days, though across the board, they appear to beat the NYS average in every rating category.

It’s worth noting that reported numbers are not as accurate as tabulated ones. For a start, people don’t necessarily remember exact numbers and may therefore misreport the number of sick days they’ve taken. Additionally, my experience is that people in rural areas tend not to under-value mental health as a legitimate reason to take a day off work. That may skew the numbers a bit as well.

Dark numbers for Monroe:

Even if Monroe County out performs a lot of other counties – including neighboring Orleans County, which looks like it could use a stern talking too – some of the numbers are just depressing. Monroe absolutely dwarfs other local counties for sexually transmitted disease infections, which is no surprise. Not unrelated, Monroe County also has among the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state, except for some especially hard-bitten downstate counties.

Here’s a cross-tab view of Monroe County health, along with other local counties – you can add other counties to the comparison of you want. Lots of excellent reading, here.

Wired.com reported last week that two counties in New York State would be participating in a program to test new software by Clear Ballot that speeds election results audits. Clear Ballot indicated that Monroe and Schenectady counties would be participating. The New York State Board of Elections confirmed the Wired article, but  Monroe County officials are unfamiliar with the company and its product.

The United States Election Assistance Commission recently created a grant program to research methods to improve the logistics of Election Day voting, as well as recounts and audits of ballot results. The State of New York Board of Elections was awarded $230,000. The state contracted with Clear Ballot to test its systems for post-election audits.

Via Twitter, I asked Clear Ballot ( @clearballot ) which two counties would be participating in the program. Clear Ballot responded Monroe and Schenectady Counties would be participating:

@dragonflyeye We’re working directly with the NY State Board of Elections, and then Monroe and Schenectady counties.

That tweet has since been removed.

State officials say the new pilot program will not be done with live ballots, but with ballots from this September’s primary elections. The counties of Monroe and Schenectady were selected as test centers because they tally votes using different ballot scanning systems.

Monroe County Board of Elections Commissioner Tom Ferrarese replied via email to my query that they had been contacted about a potential test of a new ballot counting system. But they said they have not heard anything further from the State:

A few months ago the State Board of Elections asked us if we, the Monroe County Board of Elections, would at some point in the future be willing to participate in a pilot testing a new system that would allow us to audit ballots using high speed scanners in an independently programmed system.  We indicated that we would be willing to do so.  Since then, we have heard nothing back from the State Board and are not in communications with the Clear Ballot folks nor were we even aware of their existence.

Mr. Ferrarese further stated that they would not feel comfortable changing their hand-count auditing system for this election cycle, which he says has worked well for the County in the past.

It’s not clear why the state would use Election Day to run tests, if the tests don’t require live ballots. Perhaps Wired.com story got that part of the story wrong.

I contacted Schenectady County Board of Elections officials to find out if they knew anything about Clear Ballot, but they have not yet responded.

Whilst working on another post about cyberbullying, I’ve had time, thanks to good friends in conventional media, to review the actual bill the Monroe County Legislature just passed on the issue. Near the bottom, I find this curious passage:

382-8 Reverse Preemption

This law shall be null and void on the day that statewide or federal legislation goes into effect, incorporating either the same or substantially similar provisions as are contained in this local law or in the event that a pertinent state or federal administrative ….

So in English, this basically means that the whole law gets thrown out the minute another, similar law at the “statewide or federal” level goes into effect. But this bill was signed into law one day after a state law was passed, and a mere six months before it goes into effect. The bill was initially introduced to the Monroe County Legislature on March 20th. So what is the need for this law that garnered so much press?

Even had there been more time for the law to go into effect, it is difficult to imagine how Monroe County could possibly enforce such a law. There is nothing in the bill itself to indicate any additional powers or responsibilities on the part of law enforcement, the County or any other body. It merely says that violation of the letter of the law will be punishable by up to a year in jail. By whom? How do they intend to apprehend an attacker?

A basically unenforceable law with a six month shelf life. Hard to see what benefit there is for anybody not running for US Representative in NY25.

I attempted to contact Legislator Barker for comment, but he was not available. I’m waiting to hear back from him.

Another opportunity to explain what the problem is, lost:

Authorities Budget Office calls out Monroe County executive in open letter | Democrat and Chronicle | democratandchronicle.com.

Those reforms included restrictions on business travel expenses and credit card use and prohibited the purchase of alcohol and tobacco.

In its report, the state concluded that the reforms were insufficient and criticized the board for only moving to correct lapses after it was under pressure from the county executive to do so.

Sigh. A few expensive dinners and presumably kick-ass cigars are not the problem, nor are they the major prescriptions in the original Authorities Budget Office report. There is no accountability and instead of appointing someone nominally independent, Brooks chose to install someone who was part of the problem from the beginning.

Monroe County Democrats say they want to save the taxpayers money by eliminating a few perks that go with select County jobs. Specifically, according to WHAM13 news, they want to eliminate taxpayer-funded cars and phones:

Democrats: Eliminate Taxpayer Funded Cell Phones and Cars – Rochester, News, Weather, Sports, and Events – 13WHAM.com.

They estimate that the savings for the taxpayer would be in the range of $600k a year. Wow! That’s a lot.

Whether or not their math adds up is not a question I can answer. I suppose we’ll have to see if further information is made available. But that they’re specifically targeting the County Exec and Clerk seems like a tactical move. Call me a cynic. And it *is* a sore spot, after all, since Maggie Brooks has not yet given back the Airport Authority credit card she had her $1500 “whoopsies” with.

I wouldn’t hold my breath for this one. And I wonder how much we’re paying for Legislature cell and car expenses? But if nothing else, I think we see the shape of elections to come.

So, I’m obviously very late to this party. But now that it’s piqued my interest, I started to wonder last night: who is Susan Walsh? And when I Googled David Damelio first, lo and behold:

David Damelio quits airport job | Democrat and Chronicle | democratandchronicle.com.

Brooks announced in a news release that she had appointed the county’s budget director, Susan Walsh, to replace Damelio effective immediately. The appointment requires approval of the County Legislature, which is expected next week.

Budget director…. Why does that strike me as a problem? Oh, yes:

The board merely adopts the budget amount presented to it by the county, without any detail for the cost of managing and maintaining the airport.

So, now does changing directors resolve the issue? Or no?

For all the hoopla about the Rochester International Airport and the the County Airport Authority, you’d think cigars and credit cards were the real issue. You could be forgiven in thinking that, since just about every report on the issue brings those two things up. Every. single. time.

But Rochester City Newspaper has published the full report(PDF) and even the executive summary makes it clear: the problem isn’t expenses or credit cards. The problem isn’t the Authority at all, really. The issue is the fact that the Authority is a patsy agency for the Airport itself and County at large:

This report concludes that the board of directors of the Monroe County Airport Authority (Authority) has consistently fallen short of this duty … The Authority does not follow its own policies. The board … defers management and policy decisions to Monroe County … The board has shown a lack of independence and a willingness to be directed by the county’s Aviation Department, which operates the airport. The board merely adopts the budget amount presented to it by the county, without any detail for the cost of managing and maintaining the airport. Moreover, the County Executive, as the appointing authority for the board, and the County Legislature, which approves those appointments, have not held directors to the standards of accountability expected of public board members.

This is about the County using the Authority as a sop for lots of extra payments for… what, exactly? Who is going on these trips that aren’t accounted for? Where did those cigars go? And why is it that the only people being scrutinized by Maggie Brooks and the rest of the County are the people at the Authority?

County Executive Maggie Brooks said in a press release that by appointing a new airport director, recovering improperly spent money, and implementing new travel and credit-card policies, county officials have taken appropriate action.

County officials defend airport board

LATE UPDATE: It occurs to me that, in light of the actual charges levied against the Authority in the report, the issue of Maggie Brooks’ use of the Airport credit card deserves a closer look.

Its a popular political tactic: Politician A gets elected on the promise of cutting spending and the ever popular political bitch, “waste, fraud and abuse” out of the system. Rochester, Monroe County, New York State and the Federal government all have lots of folks elected on just such a promise. That includes, of course, our current president.

And as popular as that campaign tactic is, it is no surprise that an equally attractive tactic is “holding them accountable”: insist that they tell you what exactly it is that they plan to cut out of the budget that will fulfill their campaign promises. Of course, more often than not, they have no answers. And the answers they do have generally involve cutting programs that don’t have anything to do with them or more importantly their constituents. Grossly irresponsible, isn’t it?

But hold on: what did you expect Politician A to say, exactly?

Two very interesting polls came to my attention today: the first is a national poll by Gallup where Americans express their support for program cuts. Social Security? Nope. Education? Nope. So what do they support? Cutting foreign aid, of course. The one thing on the list that doesn’t affect Americans and the only single budget cut that is supported by a majority of Americans. The second poll is a Quinnipiac University poll on New York State, where Empire State’ers support cutting state worker pay and pensions, but nothing else.

In short, we’re not up for making any sacrifices at all, at least according to polls. There is no answer to the question “what would you like to see cut” that won’t either piss off or at least alienate a significant part of the electorate. If that’s the case, then why are we messing around, electing politicians to cut things we don’t want cut?

Jon Greenbaum checks in with the current status of the health care reform bill moving though the House. Not looking good, thanks to Blue Dog efforts:

via OK, Now H.R. 3200 Really Does Suck | Chant Down Babylon.

And worst of all, the Blue Dogs cut my family out of the deal. Whereas the old bill would help median income folks with our premiums, the Blue Dog version says you are on your own after you jump over 400% of poverty. So if your family earns the median income in Monroe County in the low mid 50 grand per year for a family of four, or even quite a bit less, you are on your own buddy.

Thank you Blue Dogs.

On a positive note, the bill does manage to go a long way towards reforming private health insurance policies, eliminating lifetime service caps and denial of service because of pre-existing conditions. But clearly, the Blue Dogs are actively working against the interests of the working poor in this country. Perhaps those who negotiated this bill aught to be called out on it by name?

If you’ve not had a chance to read it, I highly recommend the book The J-Curve for all of you interested in international politics. The book is a great primer on international politics as a function of state stability, and state stability as a curve tracing from totalitarian stability to democratic stability. The book also details a number of case studies including Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia, the education of the populace is the job of the Wahabist religious sects. This is why people living in the heart of the land that gave us modern mathematics and a goodly portion of our alphabet can recite whole passages of the Koran but not read or perform basic algebra.

All of this is to say that, in the absence of government works projects, very few in Saudi Arabia are capable of holding down jobs on their own. Unemployment is rampant and so the government is constantly building new soccer stadiums and monuments to themselves as a means to keep the inevitable revolution of millions of starving, uneducated citizens at bay. These public works serve no useful function and generate no revenue of their own, but merely serve as make-busy jobs until the next useless project can be funded.

Here in Monroe County, we have no Wahabist imams forcing religion down our throats. We have no problem with education, in fact our schools are the envy of a majority of the United States. But when Monroe County insists that the Renaissance Square project is a good “shovel ready” project with which to spend our Federal Stimulus dollars, the only reasonable benefit I see is precisely this make-busy idea that keeps Saudi citizens working.

Because while generating jobs to stimulate the economy is a good thing – and I would submit that blue collar jobs are especially important on this point – focusing on the construction industry for economic growth is ultimately self-defeating. Construction jobs are only really useful to the economy as a whole where those jobs are backed up by genuine economic activity. If we worked to build our manufacturing base in Monroe County, the employees of those manufacturing companies would have permanent jobs and the companies would need construction workers to build or repair facilities. But when we focus on construction jobs, once the project is built, what happens next?

Nothing. Which exactly the problem with every monument built in Saudi Arabia and exactly what’s wrong with Renn Square as an economic project. What new jobs will be created by Renn Square after it’s built? I can only think of minimum wage jobs working in stores and restaurants inside the new terminal. . . and not even that if Bob Duffy gets his scaled-down project. What new revenue will Renn Square generate? Nada, which makes it about as useful as a statue of the Prince of Saud.

Better that we should focus on building a new terminal at the site of the current Amtrak station, if we are to build any new bus terminal at all. We can get more bang for the buck if we create a terminal that both serves the Rochester public and advocates for Rochester to the people who travel through here on rail. Better still that we should use the Stimulus money to pave our streets and fix our roads. These things generate revenue and have intrinsic value. Renn Square’s only intrinsic value is as a campaign fund project.

Metro Justice is gathering it’s supporters together this evening to protest Maggie Brooks’ new plan to turn over the day-to-day operations of the Department of Motor Vehicles to Yum! Corporation, the owners of Taco Bell. Monroe Watch, a blog by one of the organizers at MJ, has the story.

They also point out that Yum’s stock price highs of a few years ago are vanishing. That might be one reason for the company’s receptiveness to the plan. And of course, the state budget crunch is probably the reason for Brooks’ interest.

I’m surprised that none of the local media is picking this up yet. We’ll be following the story closely here at DFE.

I’d call this a sign of the times. The Rochester Business Journal is reporting that home sales in Monroe County plummeted 11 percent this month, while automobile sales continued to climb. Unfortunately, the RBJ did not report on what types of cars are being sold. Based on other reports about plummeting SUV sales, I suspect that the answer is “a whole mess of Priuses.”

Rochester Business Journal:

Sales of existing homes in May dropped 11 percent compared with a year ago, the Greater Rochester Association of Realtors Inc. reported Friday. Though May closings, at 928, were up 10.7 percent from April, which posted 838 closings.

Rochester Business Journal:

Sales of new vehicles in Monroe County continued to increase last month, while used-vehicle sales fell in May, the Rochester Automobile Dealers’ Association Inc. reported.