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Video: Lt. Jankowski's restored Harley-Davidson police motorcycle

By Howard B. Owens

There were inspiring moments during Batavia's Memorial Day parade, and there were moments of significant community pride, but what may have been the single wow! moment was when Lt. Eugene Jankowski drove by on his restored Harley-Davidson police bike.

Yesterday, I visited the acting police chief and 30-year department veteran at his home and shot a short video interview with him about the bike. He was kind enough to supply some pictures to help tell the story of the bike.

Here's the video:

In case you missed it, here's our video from the Memorial Day parade.

Thoughts on the Council-From a Citizen

By Daniel Jones

Over the past few months, I have seen the actions that this Council has taken, and unfortunately, that some council members have tried to overturn, the actions being consolidation and its relation to Batavia's long term fiscal health, the preserving of our great cultural heritage and who an increased tax burden would hurt the most. Unfortunately, Bill Cox, Bob Bialkowski and Sam Barone have been obstructionists to the general progress that this Council is trying to create Batavia.

Firstly, I am a very proud Batavian, I have lived here for almost 20 years now, which is almost my entire life. I have been blessed to live in this area, an area rich with educational opportunities due to excellent schools, great youth programs and, most importantly, people of compassion and responsibility, thats what I believe Batavia's greatest asset is, its people. However, I believe that all of that has come under attack by an overriding objection to change, this objection being irrational and irresponsible at its core, the change being consolidation. Although it is true I was originally opposed to consolidation, I believe that Batavia would not be able to survive if we didn't make large scale to changes to the way that we operate our government, unfortunately that meant making tough choices. Those tough choices lead to the accepting of a grant that would consolidate our dispatch services. I still don't believe in a perfect world that we would have to consolidate those services, however, the very fabric of our fiscal health and the maintenance of our cultural heritage was at risk. So we did what needed to be done in order to make sure that we can continue to operate in the short term and not have a large amount of debt in the long term.

On the same note, the council worked hard to make other tough budgetary decisions this year, these decisions reduced an increase in the tax levy from roughly 24 percent to roughly 8 percent. Those may be just numbers to some, to others its the difference between paying for their medicine or for their groceries. In the end, its the struggling middle and lower-middle class that ends up stomaching such a large tax burden. In the long run, the consolation is the difference between having years of saddled debt upon the City for future generations or having a fiscally clear future.

Unfortunately, some, such as Mr. Barone, Mr. Cox and Mr. Bialkowski have taken it upon themselves to reverse those decisions to create a culture of political mudslinging to overtake council, as was seen tonight by the attempt to remove the City Attorney from proceedings of meetings (which costs roughly 1600 dollars per year), it has also been seen by the attempts to cut out small and already agreed upon expenditures, such as the cutting out of 500 dollars in order to cancel parades and other events. It appears that it is the goal of certain councilmen to simply grandstand and make a large issue out of very small expenditures for their own political benefit, instead of working hard to make the lives of Batavians better and preserve our great cultural heritage.

My question to Mr. Cox, Mr. Bialkowski and Mr. Barone is simple, what offends you about us?

Why do you, Mr. Cox, Mr. Bialkowski and Mr. Barone find working people so offensive? As to not leave us, the middle and lower class, a bit of relief on our tax or rent bill in the short run and fiscal health in the long run.

Why do you, Mr. Cox, Mr. Bialkowski and Mr. Barone find young people so offensive? As to not leave us a city that is in good fiscal health, wanting us to pay off the debts of your proposed recklessness 20 years from now.

This Council worked very well and hard and across party lines to make a budget that addresses the needs of the hard working middle class people of Batavia and by consolidating provided a better long term fiscal situation for the young. I give all due credit to those council members, Mr. Mallow, Ms. Briggs, Ms. Clattenberg, Ms. Christian, Mr. Buckley and Mr. Ferrando, they are making Batavia a better place to live for all.

Perhaps some other council members, such as Mr. Cox, Mr. Bialkowski and Mr. Barone should stop paying lip service to the taxpayers and renters they swear to protect and start actually working for them instead of making a political show out of the City Council.

Batavia City Council debates role of City Attorney at conference meetings

By Howard B. Owens

Tonight's Batavia City Council meeting ended on a testy note with a majority of the council agreeing to keep the status quo with City Attorney George Van Nest's conference meeting attendance and to drop the issue until next budget season.

Council members Bill Cox, Bob Bialkowski and Sam Barone dissented.

Cox and Bialkowski had brought the matter before the council -- and from the chatter during the meeting, apparently for the umpteenth time.

"We have in this particular case," Cox said in leading off the discussion, "some discretionary ability to cut costs in this one small area."

Barone later said that the city spends $209,000 on legal fees, but Van Nest and Council President Charlie Mallow later noted that not all of those fees go to Van Nest's firm.  There is also expense, for example, for labor attorneys.

Van Nest's fees for attending the meetings amounts to about $1,600 per meeting per year, according to Mallow. 

Mallow said it was his decision to have Van Nest at the meetings, and that he and City Manager Jason Molino discuss every item on every agenda and decide whether Van Nest's attendance is warranted.  He characterized having VanNest at the meeting as responsible leadership, and suggested that the council trust his judgment on whether to have the attorney present.

Later he said: "As long as I’m council president, I’m not going to conduct a meeting without an attorney."

Councilman Frank Ferrando said the council should drop the subject for now.  The appropriate time to address the issue is during budget discussions, which won't start until September, he said.

"I get tired of talking about these things five or six times over again," Ferrando said. "I’m not interested in talking about budget revisions at this time. We’ve got lots of other fish to fry."

Cox countered that no issue should ever be closed for discussion, that in order for council members to be responsive to constituents, they should be able to raise any issue even if it has been addressed before.

"I don’t feel it’s proper for council people to be criticized for bringing up issues at a meeting," Cox said.

Molino appeared agitated, if not angry, near the close of the discussion, calling the "belaboring" of the topic a distraction for the city.

"I'm very sorry that this has created a very negative work environment, which none of you witness," Molino said. "Can we move on? I’m sorry to be so blunt, but I’m really sick and tired of this." (UPDATE: WBTA's audio.)

Once the issue was closed, the meeting adjourned and the council chambers emptied quickly.

So here's the lingering question: Why does the city pay a fee for its city attorney to attend its routine meetings?  Shouldn't that just be covered under a flat-fee contract?  Shouldn't the only extra cost incurred be only for work above and beyond routine?

GCEDC informs council on planned ag park

By Howard B. Owens

Steve Hyde  of Genesee County Economic Development Center presented an update on Agri Park development and tonight's council conference meeting.

The proposed ag park could be worth $1.4 billion to the local economy and create 1,100 jobs.

It will cover 200 to 300 acres near Oatka Milk in the Town of Batavia.

It will be the only ag industry focused part in the Northeast.

A Canadian company seems ready and serious to be the first tenant of the park, bringing 100 jobs and taking advantage of current monetary exchange rates.

"We’re not coming here today to ask for help, but to look for a partnership that says this benefits the people in the community," Hyde said.

Grants of $6 million are currently available to fund Phase I.


Council approves funds that may be used to maintain Dwyer field

By Howard B. Owens

The Rochester Red Wings will get another $15,000 for improvements to Dwyer Stadium this year after the City Council approved 5-3 a resolution authorization the expenditure.

Councilman Bill Cox led the opposition, saying that taxpayers should not subsidize private enterprise.  He objected specifically to the funds being used for grounds keeping.

"We're being asked to do this with no specific knowledge of any bricks or mortar or steel that needs to be repaired," Cox said.

The money is coming from the city's capital budget and, according to City Attorney George Van Nest, is consistent with previous grant requirements for the city to maintain the stadium.

Previously, the city entered into an agreement with the Red Wings with payments of $10,000 and $15,000 this year, $20,000 next year and $25,000 the following year.  Council President Charlie Mallow indicated the resolution was consistent with that agreement.

City Manager Jason Molino made the point that grounds upkeep is appropriate use of Capital Account funding, because "without a field, you don't have a stadium."

The Red Wings are currently operating the Batavia Muckdogs.

UPDATE: Buffalo News correspondent Bill Brown filed this report on the council proceedings. 

Police Blotter covering Memorial Day weekend

By Howard B. Owens

It was a quiet weekend in the City of Batavia.  From about 6 p.m. Friday until 6 a.m. this morning, 185 items were recorded in the city's police blotter. None of the items -- which includes everything from calls regarding fights to escort detail -- were particular serious, according to police officials.

Below is a list of some of the items copied from the blotter, covering early Friday morning through this afternoon.

We hope that including a blotter posting will become a regular feature of The Batavian.

Friday, Main 23
10:11 a.m., 17 School St., larceny
12:32 p.m.,  W. Main St., accident
12:56 p.m., Genesee Country Mall, larceny
2:20 p.m., 390 W. Main St., accident
2:26 p.m., 587 E. Main St., larceny
6:36 p.m., North St, accident
8:54, Farwell, Dr., animal complaint
8:59 p.m., Walnut St., criminal mischief
11:23 p.m., 427 Jackson St., criminal mischief
11:23 p.m., 1 Ellsworth Ave., animal complaint

Saturday, May 24
1:43 a.m., 317 Ellicott, fight
2:28 a.m., 116 State St., fight
7:08 p.m., Otis St., criminal tampering

Sunday, May 25
1:27 a.m., 127 North St., fight
1:08 p.m., Otis St., accident
7:56 p.m., 16 Chesnut, animal complaint
9:30 p.m., Jefferson Ave., criminal tampering

Monday, May 26
12:28 a.m., Ellicott St., public lewdness
8:51 a.m., Macarther Dr., animal complaint
12:30 p.m., 9 Tracy Ave., accident
3:53 p.m., 390 W. Main St., larceny
8:47 p.m., Pringle Ave., fight
9:07 p.m., Thorpe St., fight

Tuesday, May 27
6:52 a.m., 120 Jackson St., larceny
10:56 a.m., 401 E. Main St., accident
11:18 a.m., 26 W. Main St., accident
1:24 p.m., Pringle Ave., animal complaint
1:42 p.m., 639 E. Main St., animal complaint
2:23 p.m., Ellsworth Ave., burglary

Batavia City Council Agenda for Tuesday, May 27

By Howard B. Owens

The Batavia City Council holds its conference meeting at 7 p.m.  The public can comment at the meeting.  Items on the agenda:

  • Steve Hyde and Chad Zambito of Genesee County Economic Development Center will present an update on Agri Park development.
  • In order to complete the sale of property at 44 Main St. to Wendy's, the city must grant an easement for utilities from City Center to the restaurant.
  • Council members Cox and Bialkowski have asked to discuss the presence of the City Attorney at council conference meetings.

The City also sent over the business meeting agenda (electronically), but the attachment didn't open.  We may update this post later with that information if available.



News Round Up: Memorial Day and Reis Family coverage

By Howard B. Owens

In the Tuesday, May 27 Daily News, coverage centers on weekend activity, including the Reis family funeral of Saturday, Monday's Memorial Day activities and Saturday's Pageant of the Bands.

The Reis Family story was written by Matt Surtel and features comments from many speakers at the memorial service. Childhood friend of Sherry Reis, 51, was a search with esoteric reading tastes, such as the Bhagavad Gita. "She always had an inner faith and she was humble when she shared herself," Wellborne is quoted as saying. "She was strong. She had strength. She stood tall, laughed hard and nobody can replace her."

Ginny Reis, 21, was remembered by kate Dermody as a great sister, wonderful daughter and best friend.  Jim Darocha and Trisha Williasm described Emily Reis, 19, as a tiny blonde girl who was a gifted athlete with a passion for stargazing. "Whenever the night was clear, you could count on her eyes to be fixed on the sky."  Tim Reis was described as mischievous by friends.

From page A3: On the agenda for tonight's City Council meeting in Batavia is a proposal to charge contractors a $2,500 fee for plans review.

In the Police Blotter:

  • Denis N. Pirincci, 20, of Garden Drive, was charged with seventh-degree criminal possion of a controlled substance after deputies found in his car what is believed to be cocaine during a routine traffic stop.
  • Justin D. Chaddock, 30, of Roosevelt Ave. was charged with DWI after he was apprehended driving an apparently unregisterd ATV on Wilkinson Road.
  • William G. Horner, 56, of Bank Street Road, is being cahrged iwth felony criminal contempt for allegedly violating a restraining order.  He arrested a week ago for allegedly chasing a person with a knife, which resulted in the restraining order. Allegedly, he harrassed the same person Monday.
  • Thomas W. Fisher, Jr., 55, of Ellicott Street, was held on a felony DWI charge Saturday night.

 The Daily News is available on local news stands and you can also subscribe online.

Alexander Fire Department and high school re-enacting DWI accident

By Howard B. Owens

Steve Ognibene, chief of the Alexander Fire Department, sends along this notice:

The Alexander Fire Department and the Alexander High School are re-enacting a DWI Accident as part of the Prom night experence. A Promm project will start at the Alexander High School Auditorium at 910 Am on Thursday May 29, 2008 followed by the accident at the Alexander Fire Departmemnt Recreation Hall at 920. Any help in coverage will help to get the message out to young people not to drink and drive.

Catching Up on the News -- Anthem winner and Pepsi Building

By Howard B. Owens

We're a little behind in our Daily News reading (with Philip on vacation).  From the Saturday/Sunday edition, however, there were some items of note.

  • Becky Wolford won a contest to sing the National Anthem prior to a Muckdogs game.  She's also survived a brain tumor.  The story by Joanne Beck details her diagnosis and  efforts to fight the disease, which included much prayer and multiple surgeries. It's a fine news feature, but fails to acknowledge WBTA's role in sponsoring the contest.
  • The Economic Development Center has approved a $36,000 mortgage and tax abatement to help Summit Lubricants move into the former Pepsi plant at 4-D Treadeasy Ave. Summit manufactures heavy lubricants and has been in Batavia since 1991 and its expansion will lead to 17 new jobs.
  • In Lifestyles, ag reporter Tom Rivers profiles Bob Welker, a herdsman at Stein Farms, where he helps deliver calves and tend to sick cows. "It takes a special person to be herdsman because not everyone can work with sick animals every day," co-owner Dale Stein told Rivers. "You have to e willing to do everything for the animals. Maybe one in a hundred cold do it -- maybe one in a thousand.

We recommend you pick up your copy of the Daily News at a local newsstand, or subscribe on the Daily News web site.


People like The Batavian

By Howard B. Owens

Prior to today's Memorial Day parade on Main Street in Batavia, I handed out a few of our newly minted bumper stickers (thanks PennySaver, they look great).

It was gratifying to talk with so many people who already knew about The Batavian and mentioned how much they enjoy it and believe a site like this is needed in Batavia.

People who have heard about us mainly mentioned either our ad in the PennySaver or on WBTA.  A few people seemed to have heard about us via word of mouth.

Many people who did not know about the site eagerly took the stickers and commented that it is great to hear about such a site.

Only three people declined to take a sticker.

That's all a good sign that we're on the right track.

If you would like a bumper sticker for The Batavian, stop by Main Street Coffee.  Rob has been kind enough to let us leave a few on the counter.

Speaking of Rob's shop -- I'll be hanging out there more than usual this week.  Philip Anselmo is on vacation.

A video from today's parade will be posted shortly.

Stating a preference for Route 5 over the Thruway

By Howard B. Owens

Driving to and from Batavia today I thought of what a habit it has become for me to avoid the Thruway if at all possible.

And I thought of Bill Kauffman again and his essay "Back to Batavia."

The curmudgeons carped and the mossbacks muttered, and the thruway was built. Its first casualty was Route 5, Batavia's Main Street, for years a bustling thoroughfare. Travelers ate at diners along Route 5, and slept in hotels, and shopped at stores—until progress came, and the farms were paved, and Route 5 died. Across Upstate, countless locally owned and owner-operated businesses were bankrupted. Drivers stuck to the thruway and ate at the Howard Johnson's monopoly.

In nearly two years of Western New York residence, I've found myself avoiding the Thruway more often than not.

I dislike the Thruway because:

  • The smaller freeways and two-lane roads are often much more interesting, if not prettier drives and they do take you past more locally owned businesses, which generally make for more interesting stops than chains or anything you find at "service exits."  Similar thoughts and advice can be found on RocWiki.
  • The toll isn't expensive, but why pay a toll if you don't have to? Besides, regular Thruway usage can add up.
  • The alternative routes almost never take more time to drive.
  • State Troopers.  I have nothing against law enforcement. In fact, I quite admire the men and women who wear the badge. I am, after all, an ex-cop myself.  But the State Troopers on the Thruway seem to have one job: write speeding tickets.  The Thruway is nothing but a very long speed trap.  Now, I don't speed much myself (never intentionally), but on a freeway as wide, clear, straight and devoid of traffic as I-90, Troopers running radar seem to server but one purpose: Raising money for Albany.  It's an alternative form of taxation, and it doesn't provide much representation. It's too Big Brotherish for me, so I'd rather not participate in the whole Thruway experience.

So you're much more likely to find me tooling down Route 5 than 90.

Has there ever been a "Boycott the Thruway" effort? The the Thruway seems easily avoidable, even for long trips.  So why use it?

What do you think of the Thruway?  Is it a modern transportation convenience, a necessary evil, or something that can and should be avoided as much as possible?

Previously:   Contemplating Bill Kauffman's Batavia

LeRoy crash claims life of Rochester man

By Howard B. Owens

A one-vehicle crash in LeRoy early this morning claimed the life of Gerhard McBride, 56, of Rochester, the Genesee County Sheriff's office reported.

McBride was reportedly driving on Oatka Trail Road when his car left the road, struck a sign and several trees before coming to rest down an embankment.

He was pronounced dead at the scene by the coroner.

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

Military Appreciation Weekend

By Howard B. Owens

There's not much listed on the web about Memorial Day activities. lists the following event from 10:30 to 8 p.m.

Darien Lake honors the men and women that defend our country on Memorial Day Weekend! All active and veteran military personnel receive free admission and discounts for their family members. Activities include local dance groups, a tribute to Music from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and other live patriotic musical performances throughout the park all weekend long. Show you’re proud to support American troops, wear Red, White or Blue!

Previously, we mentioned United Memorial holding an observance at 9 a.m.


United Memorial plans Memorial Day service

By Howard B. Owens

From a United Memorial press release:

United Memorial is proud to serve as Genesee County ’s War Memorial. Memorial Day observance services have been planned for Monday, May 26th at 9 am at the monument in front of the Hospital’s main entrance at 127 North Street , Batavia . The public is invited to attend this annual event.

Representatives of the Veterans’ Association and Gold Star family members will lay a wreath at the monument. Members of the Batavia Concert Band will also perform.

Refreshments will be available in the Hospital Board Room following the service.

Community education classes from UMMC

By Howard B. Owens

June 4 FREE Smoking Cessation Classes

3 – 4 p.m., UMMC Terry Almeter Classroom, 127 North St. , Batavia . Four one-hour classes, 6/4, 11, 18 & 25, includes behavior modification skills, relaxation and stress management techniques, support advice.  Call UMMC Healthy Living at 344-5331 to register.

June 5 FREE Blood Pressure Screening

1:30-3 p.m., Every Thursday of the month, UMMC Cardiac Rehab, 215 Summit St. , Batavia

June 9, 11, 16 and 18 Diabetes Self-Management Education Program

6– 8:30 p.m. UMMC Healthy Living, 211 East Main St. Batavia . Comprehensive Diabetes Education Class to help you take care and control your diabetes. Learn about nutrition, medication, glucose monitoring and exercise/fitness.  Four 2½ hour sessions.  Call Healthy Living 344-5331 to register. Fee: $150. (covered by many insurances)

June 11 FREE Blood Pressure Screening 10 a.m.- 12 Noon, Batavia Senior Center , 2 Bank Street , Batavia

Ongoing Programs :

Cancer Services Partnership

Mammogram, clinical breast exam, self-breast exam, and Pap smear testing are available to                      women over the age of 50 who are uninsured or underinsured. Free colorectal kits available to people over 50.  Call the Cancer Services Partnership of Genesee and Orleans Counties at United Memorial at 344-5497.

Childbirth Educational Classes

United Memorial Childbirth Classes prepare the pregnant mother and support person for the childbirth experience. Childbirth Education Program offers a six-week (two hour sessions) and a monthly eight-hour session (Friday evening and Saturday).  All classes are held in Cary Hall at 211 East Main St. , Batavia .  Call 344-5331 for more details or contact

MOMS Program

MOMS (Medicaid Obstetric and Maternal Service) is a prenatal education program for women who receive Medicaid or who are underinsured.  Pregnancy testing and counseling are also available. Call 344-5355 for more details or email

Breast Feeding Class

Cary Hall, 211 East Main St , Batavia .  Instructor: Linda Lee Stoiber, RN, BSN, IBCLE, Lactation                Consultant. $20 fee. (may be covered by insurance) Call 344-5331 to register or for more information contact

Seven Area Organists in Concert

By Howard B. Owens

Charles Bradley, LaVerne Cooley, Ann Emmans, Henry Emmans,  David Lange, Dawn Mark and Dick Morrison will be "Pulling out all the stops" on the St. James Organ.

To benefit the restoration of St. James bell tower.

Concert date is Sunday June 22, at 3:00 PM
St. James Church
405 East Main Street

Free will offering
Reception to follow concert.

Submitted via the "Send Us News" link.

Contemplating Bill Kauffman's Batavia

By Howard B. Owens

I've been thinking of my old home town in Southern California this morning, and Batavia.

If it seems odd that I would be thinking of two towns 3,000 miles apart, thank Bill Kauffman.

Yesterday, I sumbled upon a pair of essays Kauffman wrote in 1991 about Batavia. Here's Part I, and here's the Conclusion of "Back to Batavia."

For Kauffman, Batavia has gone to ruin -- grand old buildings destroyed, venerable local stores shuttered and chains, corporations and big media pulling residents away from a pace of life that was seemingly more connected, more rooted.

Everywhere In Batavia I found small independent businesses in retreat. The Tops grocery chain has opened a super store on West Main, and all those little corner grocers, where at three o'clock the kids liberated from school, bought pretzel sticks and Bazooka Joes and Red Hot Dollars, all those Lamberts and Wandryks and Says and Borrellis are gone, gone, gone. Mr. Quartley just died, and the Platens are hanging on, barely. And now Tops has a pizza oven, and a Domino's just opened in the K Mart Plaza, so Pontillo's and Arena's and Ficarella's and Starvin' Marvin, you'd better dig in and fight. Or maybe it would just be easier to sell out, pack the wife and kids into a U-Haul, and slink down to Florida—to a trailer-park reservation with all the other white Indians.

Kauffman calls himself a localist.  I knew very little of Kauffman before we launched The Batavian, but in an odd way -- a way I'm sure he would find very odd indeed -- he might be our godfather, or at least a good touchstone of what we need to be about.

One of Kauffman's complaints is that modern New Yorkers know little of their regional literature, so rather than assume that Batavians know who Kauffman is, let me supply some background. 

Kauffman was born in Batavia in 1959 (which makes us roughly the same age). He is a writer of books and essays, mostly on politics, social and cultural issues from a conservative/libertarian bent (which makes us roughly aligned, though there seem to be many specifics on which we diverge).  His most famous book seems to be Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette, which is about Batavia. His most recent book is Ain't My America.

Kauffman believes in small town America, and in Batavia.  I've spent my entire journalism career working for small town newspapers.  Community journalism is all I know and all I care about.

I've never said this about myself before, but I guess I'm a localist, too; albeit, one lacking the true small town roots of a Bill Kauffman.

As we've said before in The Batavian, community journalism long ago lost its small town soul.

Kauffman's own analysis isn't far from our own:

The daily newspaper has passed from the Griswolds and the McWains—fine old Republicans, how gentle that Main Street Harding hauteur seems now—to a chain. The chain sent a team of journalism school, degreed outsiders to Batavia, where they patiently instruct us in contemporary etiquette. (Let's get some foreign titles in the video store! What Batavia needs is a nice Mexican restaurant!) The editorial writers are all looking to move up and out, so the paper's leaders feature plenty of "Outlaw Pit Bulls" and "Dwarf-Tossing a National Disgrace" and "A Plan for World Peace" and nary a "Save a County Courthouse."

Yes, The Batavian is owned by a corporation that runs chain newspapers, but the goal of this project is to give back to community journalism its soul.  While neither Philip nor I currently live in Batavia (for myself, I wouldn't mind seeing that change some day, but it doesn't seem at all a realistic possibiility now), the future staff writers of The Batavian will be residents (and we hope native Batavians). 

See, I know what it's like to watch a small town lose itself in its quest for glory and riches.

That old home town I was thinking of this morning was El Cajon, a suburb now of San Diego, but once a two-hour stage coach ride from the big city, so it developed its own identity. 

We didn't move to El Cajon until I was 14, but I knew the town well because most of our extended family lived there.

My dad moved us to El Cajon so he could start a business.  He put me in the same high school he had attended.  Eventually, I would get my first daily newspaper job in El Cajon, and I would start my first entrepreneurial enterprise in El Cajon (an online community news site in 1995, which is in some ways the precursor of The Batavian.).

By the time I launched that online site, the El Cajon of my youth, the quaint small town of the 1960s through early 1980s that I knew, was gone.

The old buildings on Main and Magnolia, gone.  Empty shops dotted what was left of Main Street.

All in the name of urban renewal.

Batavia went through that, too.


Batavia responded to the demise of Route 5 with an act of parricide unequaled this side of Rumania, where the demonic Ceausescu once waged war on pre-Communist architecture. The city fathers rushed headlong into urban renewal, whereby the federal government paid Batavia to knock down its past: the mansions of the founders, the sandstone churches, the brick shops, all of it (even Dean Richmond's manor, which had become an orphanage financed by Miss Edna, the city's legendary madam with a heart of gold, may she rest in peace.)

Batavia tore out—literally—its five-block heart and filled the cavity with a ghastly mall, a dull gray sprawling oasis in a desert of parking spaces. The mall was a colossal failure, but it succeeded in destroying the last vestiges of our home-run economy. J. C. Penney and Wendy's were in; the Dipson Theater and the Dagwood Restaurant were out. As our chamber of commerce might put it in one of their doggedly goofy brochures, Batavia had entered the global economy.

The mayor who stole El Cajon from me was Joan Shoemaker, who envisioned turning El Cajon -- a smoggy valley populated by factory workers and cowboys -- into the La Jolla of East County, with boutiques, quaint book stores (not that disheveled and dusty 50,000 Books I shopped in throughout high school and college years -- inset picture of now closed bookstore) and "white tablecloth restaurants" (a phrase that will be acid in my ears until I'm an old man).

It's been two years since I visited El Cajon.  Except to see my grandmother, I have no desire to go back.

The city has slipped completely into poverty and waste and ruin.  Joan Shoemaker's vision of an "East County La Jolla" has vanished behind trash on the streets and graffiti on the walls of her strip malls.  A city that once was home to modest people earning a modest living raising their families in quiet and security has been overrun by Section 8 housing and Dollar Tree stores.

Batavia is nothing like that.

And here is where Kauffman and I diverge.  There is still much about Batavia that is local.

Downtown is full of good, locally owned restaurants and stores. While pedestrian traffic is often light, it is not non-existent and plenty of people still seem to frequent the city's core.

Yes, City Center is pretty much a monstrosity, but there is still something left of old Batavia on Main Street. (I wonder if any of the former city leadership who led the charge to destroy all those grand old buildings are still around, and if they would own up to the failure of the project?) (And I should mention, the BID has done a great job with downtown, and expect to see that group yet make something useful out of City Center).

As somebody who comes from 3,000 miles away, a transplant to Western New York who thinks the region is just great and plans to spend many decades living here, I've got to say that I see no reason Batavia can't have a very local present and future.  We hope The Batavian can help encourage a vibrant localism.

And I've got to say, I'm glad I've learned about Bill Kauffman. He is my first open window into literary and historic New York.  In California, I had a grand collection of regional books, and I had explored the state thoroughly.  When I left California with an idea that I would never return, I donated those books to Matt Welch, then an editor with the Los Angeles Times and now editor of Reason Magazine (where Kauffman used to write).  Those books sit on some shelf in the Times building, I'm told. I trust they're in good hands.  Now it's time for me to learn more about, and embrace, my adopted state.

For a visual look back at old Batavia, here is a collection of pictures and one of postcards.

A city in transition

By Philip Anselmo

The departure Wednesday of the city's finance director was announced jointly with the news that the IRS had placed a lien on a city bank account owing to a "reporting error" in payroll that would have been handled by the finance office. Within hours of both announcements — following a closed-door meeting that morning — City Manager Jason Molino said that any penalties owed from the lien were revoked because the error had already been rectified.

Lickety split, Batavia was in... and out of a mess.

Yet, articles in the Daily News yesterday and today raise a few questions about the issue that still haven't been answered by the city. Molino refused to specify the error. He also said that connecting the departure of former Deputy Finance Director Shelly D'Alba with the IRS lien would be a mistake.

For sure, we must keep in mind the delicate nature of a "personnel matter" and not go smearing a city employee — with or without all the facts. There's never any excuse for slander. But that doesn't mean we don't deserve to get at the truth of the thing, find out what's going on without naming names and pointing fingers.

In an article in the Daily News today, City Council President Charlie Mallow said that "the city received several notices, sent to the person handling that" (the payroll error discovered by the IRS). And, more straightforward, reporter Joanne Beck writes: "D'Alba would have been the person to handle the filing."

In an earlier article, Molino said that his office had only recently found out about the error discovered by the IRS. That begs the question: If the city manager only found out about the problem once the IRS placed the lien on the account, what happened with the "several notices" that were sent to the city, some dating back to last spring?

Mallow said he could not speak on behalf of the city manager. An e-mail and a telephone call to Molino made earlier today have not yet been returned. Mallow did caution, however, against "connecting the dots" and relating matters that may not be directly linked.

In the same article, Mallow spoke optimistically of the current state of the city. Residents should not be worried by the recent departures. The city is in transition. Not everyone will stick around through such drastic changes, he said. Besides, the position of public works director has already been incorporated into the workload of the assistant city manager. An interim police chief should be appointed within a couple weeks. And an interim fire chief should soon follow. As for the new vacancy of deputy finance director, the city will have to wait and see, he said. For now, the responsibilities of that position will fall to the city manager and assistant city manager.

Mallow told the Daily News: "It's good to shake the apple cart about. There's no cause for concern at all. Strategic changes are planned."

There was no mention in the article of what "strategic changes" have been planned to deal with the glut of empty positions. So we asked Mallow if he could explain the connection. His response: consolidation.

"Our workforce is getting older in the city," he said. "In the next five years, we'll have 30 people who can retire. So we're at a very good point to consider consolidating."

Grants have come through to study the possibility of consolidating, merging positions, sharing responsibilities with the county and the city. Mallow feels strongly about the issue, and seems to see it as the city's way out of a future financial crisis.

"In the next five years, we'll have 30 people who can retire," he said. "So we're at a very good point to consider consolidating."

That could mean big changes for the city. Mallow:

"There might be an elimination of city borders, but that requires the town to buy in and that our finances are in order. We're pulling out of our financial problems. But a big glut of money will be needed for retirements, and insurance for our employees is something that needs to be taken care of."

In the meantime, it seems the city staff simply needs to get settled, the real responsibilities of each employee pretty clearly defined, and the public notified of just who does what down at City Hall.

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