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Holding out hope for city's poverty plan

   The city's poverty plan was formally unveiled Wednesday, with the heavy lifting to be done by a task force of four working groups charged with developing five-year plans.

   (The complete report can be downloaded here; it's long and may take a minute or two.)

  The plan holds out the possibility of promoting better collaboration and coordination among  agencies, a necessary first step, service providers say, in boosting effectiveness in tackling problems.

   At the same time, the plan did not have policy recommendations, or offer new, big ideas to combat poverty.

   What are your thoughts about the city's new poverty plan? Is it a good first step in significantly reducing poverty?

   -- Mark Sommer

No breathing easy in Western New York

   From 2005 through 2007, there were 36 days when the air in Erie County had elevated levels of ozone.

   In Niagara County, there were 33 days.

   In Chautauqua County, that number was 49.

   These are some of the numbers in the American Lung Association's "State of the Air 2009" report, released today.

   Ozone, a main contributor to smog and a gas tied to respiratory and other ailments, is one of the two key pollutants assessed in the American Lung Association's annual report, now in its 10th year.

   Western New York again fares poorly in the rating system, our air quality ranking among the worst in the state. Read the full story on the report here.

   The report lists the top 25 cities most polluted by ozone, as well as particle pollution, often called soot.

   Here are the top three from each category:

   1. Los Angeles/Long Beach/Riverside, Calif.

   2. Bakersfield, Calif.

   3. Visalia/Porterville Calif.

   Short-term particle pollution:

   1. Pittsburgh/New Castle, Pa.

   2. Fresno/Madera, Calif.

   3. Bakersfield, Calif.

   Long-term particle pollution:

   1. Bakersfield, Calif.

   2. Pittsburgh/New Castle, Pa.

   3. Los Angeles/Long Beach/Riverside, Calif.

   -- Aaron Besecker

High-speed rail: Is it worth it?

WASHINGTON — We're a region that loves Big Plans, and the latest Big One would be a rail line that could carry you to Albany in less than three hours.

Of course, the best thing about that rail line is that it could also bring you back from Albany to Buffalo just as quickly. But I digress.

In all seriousness, the "Empire Corridor" proposal for high-speed rail between Albany and Buffalo looks like one of those Big Plans that might actually be realized — if CSX Corp., which owns the right-of-way where the rail line would be built, cooperates.

Early signs are not entirely positive. CSX is demanding that the state pick up any liability costs for passenger accidents along that new route, said railroad spokesman Bob Sullivan.

"We're not introducing the passenger traffic introduced by this," Sullivan said. The state would be introducing it, "and that's where the liability should be owned or carried."

The trouble is, that liability could be hugely expensive to New York State. How expensive? Nobody knows.

But at some point in the next few months, unless CSX compromises, you can expect to hear a question that's not been voiced yet about high-speed rail in upstate New York: Is it worth it?

— Jerry Zremski

Read the full story.

Sharon Randaccio: Finding our leaders

The quest to understand who the power players are in Western New York — and what they do with the power — is high on our priority list here. 

Often, a company like Performance Management Partners and its co-founders, Sharon D. Randaccio and Amy A. Pearl, end up somewhat anonymous and strictly behind-the-scenes as they scour the area and the country for candidates to become leaders of our companies, colleges and non-profit organizations.

In today's Spotlight section we shed some light on these women, and how they have built a reputation as power players when it comes to high-caliber executive hiring.  

Let us know what you think!

Read the full story.

Collecting pensions, the New York state government way

Here are some key points from a state manual detailing post-retirement work for people collecting pensions from the New York State retirement system:

Your post-retirement  earnings are unlimited, if you:

-Are self-employed

-Work for a private employer

-Work for another state

-Work for the federal government

-Are elected to public office

-Are 65 years or older

Otherwise, if you work for New York State or one of its political subdivisions, including school districts, earnings are limited to $30,000. After that, a pension is suspended for the remainder of the year. It will be restored the following year, but again, will be suspended with the $30,000 limit.

One way around the limit is to get a waiver. A prospective employer must submit proof to the appropriate state agency that you are the only person available and qualified for the job.

Also, as of Oct. 7, 2008, retirees cannot return to work in the same or a similar position for a one-year period following retirement.

What do you think? Are the laws good? Should  they be changed? Should anyone, no one or everyone be allowed to collect a state pension and a public sector paycheck?

— Sue Schulman

Read the full story.

Texting behind the wheel: lethal and legal

   It can be truly amazing to watch a teenager send a text message on a cell phone. The speed and dexterity with which they can communicate a thought is impressive.

   It also helps explain why so many think they can do it while driving a car. They don't seem to expend any mental energy doing it.

   But they do. It is distracting. It does take their concentration away from what they should be doing. And as we keep learning and relearning, it can be fatal.

   "Don't text while you're driving" sounds like the same kind of advice as, "Don't drink gasoline" and, "Don't point that gun at your head." You really should know enough to not do it.

   But sometimes common sense is not enough. Should there be a law banning texting while driving?

Is there a doctor online?

Chalk up another one for technology.

The days when being too far from a medical center or hospital meant big trouble for someone suffering a stroke or other catastrophic event might be over, thanks to the Internet and fiber optic cables.

The movement which is known as the telemedicine initiative started as a way to address the shortage of neurosurgeons in some areas. It now includes such areas as psychiatry and trauma care.

What it all means is that you might be far from the hospital, but help might be just a call - and a click - away?

Read the full story.

New York's newest senator still unknown to many - and vulnerable

After eight years of following Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton from Washington to Waterloo, Iowa, and beyond, I couldn't help but notice the differences last week when I tagged along as her replacement in the Senate, Kirsten Gillibrand, got to know her new New York City constituents.

There were no Secret Service agents trailing Gillibrand, no battalion of cameramen, no gawking autograph-seekers. Instead, there was just Gillibrand and one crowd after another filled with people who either didn't recognize her or didn't have much of any opinion about her.

Such is the state of affairs for the former upstate congresswoman who is trying to suddenly serve the giant, and very different, political constituency of New York City.

Aiming to please, Gillibrand has shown a newfound interest in gun legislation and eased the harsh edge of her stance on immigration, but that has done nothing to stop a coterie of potential Democratic primary challengers from lining up behind her.

The question is: Can she fend off potential challengers like Reps. Carolyn McCarthy, Carolyn Maloney and Steve Israel, who are far better known downstate?

— Jerry Zremski

Read the full story.

Hamburg: Birthplace of the burger - and a renewed Main Street?

If you believe Dan Burden, the country will be looking to Hamburg as a leader in traffic calming and restoration of the hometown "Main Street."

It's because the four roundabouts installed on Main and Buffalo streets have transformed the village. Not everyone likes them, but the number of accidents has dropped measurably since they were constructed.

Burden formed "Walkable Communities," a non-profit group that promotes "walkability as the cornerstone of a successful, vibrant community," according to its web site,

Hamburg may not have had this much pressure since the Menches brothers created the burger at the Hamburg Fair in 1885.

— Barbara O'Brien

Read the full story.

Things are looking up for the urban farm

No one is humming the "Green Acres" theme song just yet in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood, but things are looking up for a proposed urban farm.

City officials have renewed their offer to let a Fillmore Avenue couple lease two acres of land on Wilson Street for their produce farm.

At first, Mark and Janice Stevens said a lease wouldn't be feasible, given the time and money they would have to invest as they transform 27 city-owned lots into an urban oasis.

But then the city vowed to consider more favorable terms. Instead of insisting on a clause that would let Buffalo reclaim the property on 30 days' notice, planners said they might agree to an end-of-season notification.

The Stevenses said they think the outpouring of community support for their farm gives them added "security" that the city won't pull the plug on their agricultural venture.

Still, city officials insist new housing is the best use for the land in the long-term. They've not budged on this point, and they've stressed the importance of following the city's master plan.

Common Council President David A. Franczyk has played a key role in urging the parties to reach a compromise. He represents the Fillmore neighborhood and lives only a short distance from the proposed farm. He still thinks a land sale is the best option. But if a lease gets a "tiller in the ground," the lawmaker said he will support it.

What's your take on the possibility that a deal might be hatched soon?

— Brian Meyer

Read the full story.

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