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News briefs 10.8.02

Pulling out the stops

EROI: That's Italian for "heroes," and Genessean for the Eastman Rochester Organ Initiative.

            The definitions harmonize. For one thing, the Initiative is about making Rochester an international center for the most heroic of instruments --- assembling here "a collection of new and historic organs unparalleled in North America." For another, the first "hero" EROI will bring here is a unique Italian baroque pipe organ.

            On October 2, members of the Eastman School of Music's organ faculty joined The Publick Musick, a Penfield-based chamber ensemble, for an EROI kick-off in the Memorial Art Gallery's Fountain Court. There were remarks from MAG director Grant Holcomb, Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson, and ESM director James Undercofler. But the musicians, including Eastman organ profs David Higgs, Hans Davidsson, and William Porter, held center stage, along with a small organ on loan from Cornell University. The Fountain Court, whose acoustics had worried some in the audience beforehand, resounded splendidly with works by Buxtehude, Joseph Haydn, and others.

            But it was a silent, distant presence that turned everybody's head. EROI has acquired an 18th-century organ (some of its parts date from a century earlier), now being restored by German organ builder Gerald Woehl. When the organ gets here in 2005, it will be the "first full-size Italian baroque organ in North America," says an EROI fact sheet. Full-size, indeed: At 22 feet in height, the organ (detail pictured) will quite nicely fill the airspace of its new home, the Fountain Court.

            EROI has other instruments on its program, too. There'll be a restoration of Kilbourn Hall's 1921 E.M. Skinner organ. And a new organ "in 18th-century style" will be installed in Christ Church, near the Eastman School campus. Part of the idea is to make downtown Rochester "the only international organ city in the US." EROI literature points out that Göteborg, Sweden, another organ city, hosts "international conferences and concerts" and draws "sophisticated tourists." And it turns out that ESM's Hans Davidsson, EROI's project leader, founded the Göteborg Organ Art Center. Sometimes globalization sounds pretty good.

--- Jack Bradigan Spula

... and he taketh away

It was reported last month that Monroe County is canceling its contract with the Rochester Resource Alliance. The RRA provides services to the county's Workforce Investment Board, helping to decide how $15 million in federal job-training funds will be spent.

            Publicly, the county has said that the move is the result of questionable business practices by the RRA. Privately, some are questioning whether something more sinister is afoot.

            The RRA is a subsidiary of the Rochester Business Alliance. The alliance's president and chief operating officer is Sandra Parker. Thomas Mooney is its CEO.

            Parker and Mooney came out in a newspaper article last year, calling on County Executive Jack Doyle to step down when his term ends. Mooney said he would "advise" Doyle not to run, because his adversarial relationship with Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson prohibited a productive relationship between the two.

            Less than a year later and the RRA contract is toast.

            Coincidence? If you say so.

Proof positive

Democrats are calling for an independent review of the county's claimed social services savings. County Executive Jack Doyle says that since merging social services departments, the county has saved almost $30 million.

            "But they've shown the community no real proof," says Stephanie Aldersley, Democratic leader of the County Lej. "Our many requests for a breakdown of those savings have been ignored over the last few months. Anyone can throw around these huge numbers. Can the administration back them up? Only an independent audit will answer that."

            Democrats are calling for the formation of an independent budget-review panel to assess the county's claims. Aldersley asked that the referral be included in Tuesday's meeting of the full Legislature.

            Republican Tracy Logel, a member of the Lej's Human Services committee, says the Democrats' proposal is "just political posturing."

            Asked if the county has proof of the savings, Logel said, "I have to assume it will show up in the bottom line of the budget. If $30 million doesn't disappear from the budget, you would think that's proof."

            The county budget will be released later this month.

Migrating jobs

Recently we looked into the clouded crystal ball of this region's future. One ghostly form we saw was the Carrier Corporation. In recent years, the air-conditioning giant has downsized thousands of Syracuse jobs. Now Carrier --- or rather its owner, United Technologies --- will shut down two Syracuse-area plants and lay off 1,200 workers.

Said a report in the Syracuse Post-Standard: "Record factory production, offers of state incentives and union concessions, and threats to withhold federal contracts were not enough [to keep the] factories running." Indeed, Governor George Pataki and US Representative Jim Walsh jumped through many a hoop. Later Walsh told the New York Times: "They're making strategic decisions that are beyond our ability to impact."

Just neighborly

The Democrat and Chronicle editors happily note the US and Canada "still treasure their interdependence" --- mostly meaning crossborder trade. Yet the momentous October 2 Ontario election didn't make headlines in the D&C, which ran a two-inch item on page 12A. (A nostra culpa: We haven't followed the issue. But we're not a paper of record.)

Anyway, Ontarians overwhelmingly backed the Liberal Party to replace the Tories, whose eight-year rule ran on tax-cuts, privatizations, etc. The Liberals, led by Premier-elect Dalton McGuinty, promise to revive a range of public services. The Tories are now the official opposition; the left New Democrats are in third place.

To be fair: The D&C has set the local standard for covering international issues and popular movements during the "war on terror" --- though the editorial page often undoes the good reporting.

Ad wars

County executive candidate Bill Johnson lashed out at his opponent earlier this week, accusing Maggie Brooks and county Republicans of using public money to promote the County Clerk's Office, and Brooks by extension.

            Johnson is referring to ads run in 2002. While the county was cutting funding to the Rochester Museum and Science Center, for example, it was also spending $100,000 to promote future candidate Brooks, he said.

            "This advertising is more than a waste of tax dollars. This is an abuse of the public trust," said Democrat County Legislator Jay Ricci. "In a time of fiscal crisis, we cannot use taxpayer dollars for self promotion."

            Ricci plans to re-introduce legislation from 2002, eliminating politically motivated advertisements financed by taxpayers.

            Brooks, in response, says that the amount was $55,000, not $100,000, and it was obtained through a state grant specifically for that purpose. No programs or services suffered, she says.

            The money could not, by requirement, be used for anything else, she says. The ads promoted the office's passport and mobile DMV services.

            The ads, Brooks says, ran in 2002, well before the county started cutting its budget.

            Advertising the services the clerk's office provides is important, Brooks says. Not everyone knows or understands how the office works, and that causes frustration among customers who end up having to make two or three trips, she says. Government shouldn't be excluded, she adds, from communicating information to the public.

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