News & Opinion » Metro ink

News briefs 8.14.02

Happiness was a warm gun

The arms race is not a modern phenomenon. Long before the Cold War, cave dwellers stockpiled rocks to use as weapons. And for one brief moment between the rocks and the missiles, Rochester made a contribution to the history of weaponry.

            In 1861, a dentist named Josephus Requa invented the first rapid-fire machine gun. The Civil War had just started and he wanted to boost the Union's advantage. The Requa Battery, as it was called, was built from 25 .52-caliber rifle barrels that fired simultaneously. A crew of three men could shoot an astonishing 175 rounds in one minute.

            The whole town turned out 140 years ago this month to watch the Requa Battery assault a wooden barrel target in the Genesee River. It filled the air with gunsmoke and riddled the barrel with holes. The crowd went wild. The Rochester Union & Advertiser called the gun a "complete battery of terrible power."

            Dr. Requa traveled to Washington, DC, to meet with President Lincoln. Always on the lookout for new technology to end the war, Lincoln ordered dozens of Requa Batteries. Thirty helped crush the Confederates in the same battle at Charleston, South Carolina, later made famous by the movie Glory.

            You can hear stories like this one at Mt. Hope Cemetery, where Requa and other characters are buried. A tour that's also a play, "Rochester's Visionaries and Inventors" is a 90-minute time-travel odyssey. Visitors will walk through the lush historic grounds and meet interesting (dead) Rochesterians from all eras like Lewis H. Morgan (the father of American anthropology), Seth Green (the guy who invented the modern fishery), and poet Adelaide Crapsey. No tour of Mt. Hope would be complete without stops at the Anthony and Douglass family graves, so expect to see Susan B. and Fred while you're there, too.

            Presented by the RMSC Players in conjunction with the Friends of Mt. Hope Cemetery at 10 and 11:30 a.m. on the following Saturdays: August 17, September 21, and October 12. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children. Call 271-4552 x342 for reservations.

--- Jennifer Loviglio

Public Library, Inc.

As Monroe County's Central Library slashes staff, hours, and services in an attempt to cope with a loss of county and state funding that could reach $2 million next year, some observers have suggested the institution simply start charging fees for currently free services.

            "People say, 'Why don't you just charge for a library card?'" says Monroe County Library System director Richard Panz. In fact, library officials are considering doing just that: Charging people who reside outside Monroe County, and who do not own property within county limits, as much as $30 for a library card. Board members of the Rochester Public Library and the Monroe County Library System will also consider imposing a fee for placing holds on library materials --- perhaps 50 cents per item --- when they meet in the coming weeks.

            Panz chafes under the assumption he can start managing our public libraries like they were Barnes & Nobles. "I don't control all the libraries," he says. "The MCLS board does not, either. To charge a fee, we have to have the collective consensus" of branch librarians countywide, he says. "And that's not easy to get."

            It seems some stodgy librarians are still enamored with the quaint idea that everyone should have equal access to the knowledge available at public libraries, regardless of their ability to pay for it. Fees for holds and other services will be on the table when the system's various boards meet this month.

            Meanwhile, it looks as though the Central Library will be able to stay open the minimum 55 hours per week necessary for it to keep its state charter. Panz expects private funding will again allow the Rundel and Bausch & Lomb Public Library Buildings to open their doors on Sundays. Should the library have had to drop below 55 hours, it could have lost roughly $300,000 in state aid. The county cut has already jeopardized $500,000 in state funds, money that's contingent on a level of local financial support the proposed county budget would not provide.

            And though the final numbers aren't in yet, Panz is a bit pessimistic about how much money the library system will take in from overdue book fines. Despite a public plea for scholarly scofflaws to pay up, Panz says, "I'd be happy if we got 10 percent" of the $300,000 in outstanding fines. That's less than outstanding news for readers.

Retreat from service

After being head of Monroe County social services for nearly a decade, director Richard Schauseil has announced he'll retire this fall. Far be it from us to begrudge him a comfy retirement. But we see the ironies.

            Schauseil, whose job it's been to enact various aspects of "welfare reform," recently told the Democrat and Chronicle's Jim Goodman that County Executive Doyle's proposed cuts in human services were necessary. "We are sharing the pain," Schauseil said. "We are working with less resources at DSS, and we are asking our nonprofit agencies to do the same." That sounds more like knee-jerk support for Boss Doyle than advocacy for the poor.

            We asked a couple of Schauseil's critics to comment on the change at the top of DSS. "We're delighted," said Sister Grace Miller of the House of Mercy, a group that's frequently demonstrated against welfare reform at the county legislature. "We made it tough for him," Miller admitted. "He was a hard one to reach."

            "He's a nice fellow, an efficient administrator," said Bob Ingram, who works with EMPOWER Welfare Rights, a group of and for recipients of public assistance. But Ingram, who charges that DSS throws unnecessary obstacles in applicants' paths, said the personnel change ultimately will make little difference --- as long as Doyle is in charge.

Rape crisis in crisis

Among the array of social service cuts County Executive Jack Doyle has decreed in his attempt to balance the county budget are funds provided to staff Monroe County's only 24-hour, free, and confidential hotline for victims of sexual violence. The hotline, run by Planned Parenthood of the Greater Rochester/Syracuse Region, is slated to lose $10,000 in county funds this year. In 2003, the Doyle administration has proposed eliminating its contract for the service entirely, a cut of nearly $40,000.

            Those reductions would have "a crippling effect on our staff," says Anna Potter, manager of the regional Planned Parenthood office's rape crisis services. The loss of funding "really puts our 24-hour hotline in jeopardy."

            Potter's three staff counselors train and provide support to the volunteers who staff the hotline. The hotline receives between 900 and 1,000 calls from new clients every year. Staff and their volunteers also manage ongoing cases, helping sexual assault victims deal with the physical, psychological, and legal aspects of such crimes. Staffers also lend their expertise to school counselors and other professionals working on cases in which sexual abuse is involved. The county funding reduction would represent a loss of roughly one-and-a-half staff positions.

            "To have this [funding cut] in my face now, to lose staff in Monroe County, that is very disturbing to me," Potter says. That's because these days, Monroe County is "desperate" for volunteers, she says. "I've been doing this for 12 years, and I do not use that word lightly at all."

            According to Potter, of the 35 to 45 volunteers needed to provide the service, the regional office is trying to get by with about 20. And the harrowing nature of rape crisis work exacerbates the shortage. After all, Planned Parenthood isn't asking these volunteers to file paperwork in the office. "We're asking people to get up at three in morning and go to a hospital call for a victim," Potter says. "And they do."

            The proposed funding cuts "might seem like a small amount of money," Potter says, "but the ripple effect it could cause our program could be devastating." Should the service be compelled to cut its hours or impose a fee, it risks losing the handful of grants that constitute its other funding sources, including a large chunk of funding from the state Department of Health.

            "We can't say to someone, 'We'll get back to you,'" Potter says. "We're contracted with the state to be there."

            Potter is hopeful a letter-writing campaign and other lobbying efforts will convince county officials to restore the funding. Based on her previous work with him, Potter says Doyle "is extremely supportive of rape victims. That's why I think he needs to take a second look here.

            "He was a judge," she adds. "He sat on the bench and watched a parade of people [affected by sexual violence] come before him."

            County administration spokesman James Smith did not return a call seeking comment.

            Planned Parenthood's Rape Crisis Hotline: 546-2777. To volunteer, call 546-2595 x338.

East West closes

The East West Shop in Victor, one of the Rochester area's highest quality galleries, will close its doors this fall after a final show in September. Merlin Dailey, a leading expert in art of the Far East, opened the gallery 32 years ago. Although there will no longer be a walk-in space, the name and the business will continue in a different form.

            "We're opening a website. I think that's where the market is," says Dailey, who says he will not slow down. "I want to keep my hands and my heart in the art world of Rochester. I want to continue to give talks at the Memorial Art Gallery and do other things." The gallery will be going out in a blaze of glory. The final show will include Surimono, Chinese spirit stones, Chinese Landscape paintings from the 17th century, and Japanese fans from the 19th and 20th centuries.