What’s with teachers?

WHEN SHOULD SELF INTEREST yield to civic duty? Let’s rule out sudden acts of civilian heroism and put aside those who risk their lives on a daily basis in the military, where a commitment to public duty above all else is part of the job description. Consider instead ordinary working people asked to decide between selflessness and selfishness when their jobs are at stake. How clear is that line?

   That question has come up a lot recently in the public sector as well as private industry, as teachers have faced requests by school boards desperately seeking to keep a lid on property taxes, and the state has struggled to cope with a deficit unlike any in modern memory.

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What to do before the flu

I VISITED BUSY MEDICAL BUILDING in Columbia County this week just as the outbreak of swine flu began to dominate the news. On a stand in the lobby outside the main door stood a dispenser of hand sanitizer. You rub some of it on your hands to eliminate germs, including, we assume, the virus that causes the influenza A (H1N1) that is killing people in Mexico and now the U.S. I usually pass by these dispensers; I’m not a medical professional and I’m reasonably healthy. But with all the warnings about the spread of this potentially lethal bug, I stopped and put out my hands for a squirt of the stuff.

   Oops. So much for preparedness. The dispenser was empty.

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Fix the courthouse now

FOR ALL THE GRIM DETAILS that emerged last week at the murder trial of Warren Powell, one of the most disturbing images to emerge from the proceedings occurred just outside the courtroom. It involved a disabled reporter from a Capital Region daily newspaper who had to crawl up the courthouse stairway to reach the courtroom.

     Years ago, Columbia County signed a consent order with the U.S. Justice Department that requires the county to make its courtrooms comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The act was adopted during the term of the first President Bush, and almost two decades later the county still fails to obey a law in the building used to uphold all laws. This is a disgrace.

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Plan B and county space

HUDSON DEMOCRAT ED CROSS was the embodiment of a patient man Wednesday evening as he rose to speak toward the end of the county Board of Supervisors meeting. Addressing board Chairman Art Baer (R-Hillsdale),  Mr. Cross asked whether the board would listen to a proposal from Hudson Mayor Rick Scalera, who has a plan for keeping the county Department of Social Services (DSS) in Hudson.

     Maybe Supervisor Cross made a mistake by prefacing his question with a statement about how we all make mistakes. That’s not something a roomful of politicians wants to hear, and it may explain why he got no answer. So a short time later, in the same calm, dignified voice he asked again: Would the board listen to the mayor’s proposal?

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You call this a farm?

OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS the state Department of Agriculture and Markets has come to the aid of local farms that have run afoul of town laws. In Kinderhook dogs that protected alpacas got on neighbors’ nerves. A Gallatin doctor needed a wind turbine to power the mill that turns the wool of his sheep into socks. And then there was Stuyvesant’s short-lived fugitive chicken law.
     In each case, the department, known by its shorthand name, Ag and Markets, told the towns their rules didn’t apply to farms. The law allows Ag and Markets to overrule local laws as to way of preventing suburban sensibilities from smothering agricultural practices. And in the past the department has used its authority to good end. But an opinion it rendered last month raises the possibility that Ag and Markets may have abused its broad powers.
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