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Readers feedback 12.30.03

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Why fire Pethic?

I want to make it clear that I do not go along with fellow musical associate Joe Romano's "beans from bananas" dis towards WGMC ("Sideman," December 3). I've always praised the many improvements station manager Jason Crane has brought to WGMC, and have been especially impressed with his mini-biographies of historical jazz greats --- such as his birthday acknowledgment of the innovative C melody saxophonist and Bix Beiderbecke sidekick Frankie Trumbauer.

            I have the feeling that Joe's comments, moreover, were meant as an expression of his disconsolation with Jason Crane's firing of 21-year WGMC veteran jazz DJ Tom Pethic, a hard-working WGMC fund raiser who for many years, early on, logged countless volunteer hours on the air for the station.

            Like Romano, I just don't understand why Pethic, with his meager three-hour shifts on Saturday and Sunday mornings, was sent packing. So I'm asking Jason Crane to come forth, in a reply to this letter, to settle all the speculation and tell us why he released Tom Pethic. I think he owes that much to Pethic's WGMC listenership.

            Mike DiMartino, trumpet, Rochester

First, fix

the city's problems

Much of the talk surrounding the County Executive race focused on the city's problems. The city population continues to drop, the high-school dropout rate is soaring, violent crime is out of control, the job base is shrinking, and neglected and abandoned structures are being demolished at an alarming rate, as property values plummet.

            The current city administration under Mayor Johnson has taken several innovative, important steps toward stabilizing and revitalizing the city. However, fundamental changes are needed if Rochester is to regain the ground it has lost as a vibrant center in the county and in the region.

            The city administration itself must be restructured to focus on revitalization. Three things need to happen. First, for each problem area a set of simple, specific measurements is needed so we can gauge the city's progress. Second, the top-heavy, top-down approach to problem-solving should be turned on its ear. Instead of a few huge, expensive projects that grab headlines, City Hall should encourage lots of small, low-cost initiatives. Third, City Hall staff must be given the tools and the mandate to innovate, and then be held accountable for results.

            The campaign for County Executive was not about race or class or anything that simplistic. It was about the need for city leadership to take responsibility for city problems and to show skill in ways that the county cares about. To many county residents, the city's problems are stark, and their persistence is baffling. Nobody seems to be doing anything.

            This, of course, is over-simplification. But to be fair, consider the message: First, we often hear that further decline in city population is inevitable. We must stop tolerating this acceptance of failure and all failed policies that stem from it.

            Second, after a spate of shootings last summer, the administration said it could not prevent violent crime.

            Third, in a D&C article during the campaign we learned that while the high-school dropout rate is soaring, our school administrators don't know what the dropout rate really is, who the dropouts are, or why they are leaving.

            Fourth, on local talk radio, we hear callers who say drug deals occur in full view of their dwellings, yet repeated calls to city authorities accomplish nothing.

            County residents form their opinions from such messages. They don't share our understanding of our mayor's good efforts.

            As Rochesterians, let's take some lessons from the recent election, and stop ignoring or excusing the numbers that matter.

            Despite such forward-looking initiatives as NBN and NET, the city administration retains an Urban Renewal-era structure and mindset. Much is made of the mega-projects and how many more visitors each will bring to the city. But Rochester needs more than visitors: It needs more residents.

            We can no longer afford to rely on large-scale government projects to revitalize our city. The key, says Roberta Brandes Gratz in The Living City, is to act "small, in a big way." We've got to do more with what we've already got, possibly by learning from the experiences of other major cities.

            Consider a few possibilities. Partnerships like the one recently formed by a group of local agencies to stimulate investment in city housing could be created proactively by City Hall. Law enforcement could share information about crime with various community groups like rehab contractors to steer rehabs to specific high-crime areas, as Boston has done.

            If we focus on the dropout rate, maybe the youth crime rate would drop. To create jobs, why not focus on incubating new companies, instead of relying solely on luring big companies to the area? Do the small stuff first.

            What is needed is leadership that can put the city administration into an innovating, problem-solving mode. City staff, school administrators, and law enforcement should be given the tools needed to improve the numbers and the authority to innovate, and then be held accountable for results. Most city employees I have met are dedicated and do their job well. But too often I think they are tasked only with enforcing or following certain rules, not with solving real problems. Creating the NET offices was a big step forward. But more must be done to realize their potential as problem-solvers and incubators of new revitalization strategies.

            The reality is that suburban residents in Monroe County are no longer dependent upon the city and are no longer willing to shoulder its burdens or elect its leaders. That has finally come home to city dwellers, and it is a bitter pill indeed. For the city to once again command the respect of the other municipalities in the county, it will have to prove itself as their equal, by solving its own problems and becoming a desirable place to live, work, and raise a family for a diversity of ages, incomes, and ethnicities.

            Our leaders will do this only when we demand it. It's time for some "tough love": "Fix our city's problems --- or find another job."

            Jim Fraser, Evergreen Street, Rochester

Leading the sheep

In the Soviet Union, the government had an active and "pre-emptive" set of agencies that monitored and stifled dissent and fulfilled the functions of homeland security. It was called the KGB.

            Nazi Germany had a similar police-state organization, which used both intrusive (sneak and peek searches) and extrusive (arrest on trumped-up charges) means of intimidation for this purpose. It was called the Gestapo.

            Both entities were created out of a state need to impose order upon an otherwise unwilling populace, using the pretexts of homeland security and protecting the country from foreign-inspired danger. Their application, however, was tilted towards the elimination of domestic political opposition. That's why they are considered textbook totalitarian regimes.

            The old adage is that those who forget their history are doomed to repeat. The American people have been diverted by our dumbed-down public education system and our dawdling, sycophantic media, who are generally more interested in currying corporate and government favors than upholding their duties as our fourth estate.

            It is only a stone's throw from a public's allowing government thuggery --- as exhibited during the repression of constitutionally protected dissent in Miami --- to a situation like the West Bank, where the American people will play the part of the Palestinians and the government will play the part of the Israeli Defense Forces.

            Retired general Tommy Franks recently stated that in the event of another "terrorist" attack on these shores, the Constitution would go out the window. Judging from Miami's dress rehearsal for martial law, the Constitution is already a moot document. Expect more of the same, especially when the House and Senate pass bills permitting more foreign misadventures like our plans to "deal" with Iran and North Korea.

            George Washington was right when he said that if freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

            Tom Catalano, Rochester

Writing to City

We welcome and encourage readers' letters for publication. Send them to: themail@rochester-citynews.com or The Mail, City Newspaper, 250 North Goodman Street, Rochester 14607.

            Our guidelines: We don't publish anonymous letters --- and we ask that you include your street name and city/town/village. While we don't restrict length, letters of under 350 words have a greater chance of being published. We do edit letters for clarity and brevity. And in general we don't publish letters (or longer "op-ed" pieces) from the same writer more often than once every three months.

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