Saturday, March 04, 2006

Village, Township and County Officials - Minimum Reading List

Whether you are in favor of Wal-Mart locating to Saranac Lake or not, local politicians have an obligation to be knowledgable about Wal-Mart, their business practices and effects on rural economies. If nothing else, the articles may give you some ideas of what questions to ask Wal-Mart representatives - although they are sure to have good sounding answers for any possible question. Read the articles listed below and then think about the long term effects of hosting a Wal-Mart store rather than any possible short term benefits.

The following is a recommended minimum reading list (links found on the left side of the web site):

Hidden Price of Wal-Mart by U.S House of Rep. George Miller

Wal-Mart Effect on Rural Communities by Dr. Ken Stone, Iowa State University

The Hidden Cost of Wal-Mart Jobs by Dr. A. Dube, Univ. CA. Berkeley

Shopping for Subsidies by P. Mattera, Good Jobs First, Wash. DC

Wal-Mart/Walton Philanthropy by National Comm. for Responsive Philanthropy

Wal-Mart and County-Wide Poverty by Dr. S. Goetz, Penn. State Univ.

It wouldn't hurt for the candidates for Village trustee and Mayor to look over these articles either.

Essex Co. Brd. Resolution No. 311

According to a Plattsburgh Press Republican news article:

Resolution No. 311 (2002) instructed Donaldson and the County IDA to "furnish any and all assistance necessary to induce those parties (interested major retailers) to open a store at that location." This was in reference to the then empty Ames Plaza in Saranac Lake.

Chestertown Supervisor Gerald Morrow said Essex County Manager Cliff Donaldson may have taken too much 'liberty' with the resolution and that he was "shocked" that he had not informed the village (SL).

North Elba Supervisor Shirley Seney said she was "dumbfounded" and "I am very disappointed in him (Donaldson)."

St. Armand Supervisor Joyce Morency said that she was "a little bit surprised that Village of Saranac Lake wasn't involved."

Saranac Lake Village Mayor Tom Catillaz sent a letter to the Essex County Board of Supervisors requesting that they give Saranac Lake half of the sales-tax revenues it collects from the village. [Essex County has never shared sales-tax revenues with the village in the past.]

Friday, March 03, 2006

SL to Ask Essex County to Stay Out of Their Business

A news report posted on the WNBZ web site says the Village of SL Mayor Tom Catillaz will deliver a letter to the Essex County Board of Supervisors requesting that they keep a 'resolution of support for Wal-Mart' tabled until the village has had time to gather more information and conclude an economic impact study.

In the same WNBZ report, Town of North Elba Supervisor Shirley Seney questioned the actions of Essex County manager Cliff Donaldson in the way he recruited Wal-Mart to SL. Ms. Seney said "I’m really confused about Cliff’s attitude and actions in assuming that he should continue a 2003 directive from the county and not ask for board follow up, but that's what happens when one assumes".

Yet Another Academic Report

The Hidden Costs of Wal-Mart Jobs: Use of Safety Net Programs by Wal-Mart Workers in California by Arindrajit Dube and Ken Jacobs of UC Berkeley here.

The first study to quantify the costs of Wal-Mart's substandard wages and benefits on public safety net programs. Village and Town officials should be reading stuff like this.

Is there going to be a study of the possible effects of a Wal-Mart supercenter on SL? Donaldson threw out numbers on the amount of taxes that an SL Wal-Mart would pay. Does that take into consideration the loss of taxes that may occur should a Wal-Mart come to SL? Is anyone going to study what the long term effects of a Wal-Mart supercenter will be on SL, the Townships and the Essex county?

Their (Wal-Mart)market research assesses what kind of market share they could grab, not what the cost/benefit analysis would be on public revenues if other stores close and lay off their workers. Wal-Mart does not want third party "experts" involved in these hearings. Most communities have little or no capacity to produce their own analysis. So Wal-Mart is able to sway public officials largely on unsubstantiated economic promises. (from Sprawl-Busters)

Do the village officials have the guts to ask Wal-Mart to share their market research?

What Would Sam Say Today?

Sam Walton said that in the early days of Wal-Mart, "I was so chintzy I really didn't pay my employees very well....that is pretty much the way retail was in those days...I was so doggoned competitive, and so determined to do well, that I was blinded to the most basic truth, really the principle that became the foundation of Wal-Mart's success...the way management treats the associates is exactly how the associates will then treat the customers. And if the associates treat the customers well, the customers will return again and again, and that is where the real profit in this business lies..."

Thursday, March 02, 2006

ADE Calls for Donaldson to be Fired

A scathing 'Opinion' piece by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise editorial board is in tonights paper. "For Mr. Donaldson's heinous behavior, the Essex County Board of Supervisors should fire him immediately."

The ADE editorial board says Mr. Donaldson's actions were outragious, corrupt and verging on autocratic. They accuse Mr. Donaldson of undermining the Essex County Industrial Development Agency "by becoming Wal-Mart's undercover operative."

The ADE editorial board also question whether Mr. Donaldson had co-conspirators in the SL village government; "despite SL officials' protests of ignorance". The ADE editorial board also call for any village staff member who knew about Mr. Donaldson's actions should also be fired. And, any elected village official who knew about it should resign.

NOTE: The publisher of the ADE, Ms. Catherine Moore, was instrumental in forming a 'Red Carpet Team' made up of community members trying to find ways to entice a large department store to SL (among many other ideas). Many meetings of the Red Carpet Team were completely open to community members in order to determine what the community wanted.

Village No Longer Needs Proposed Wal-Mart Building Site

Story on WNBZ radio website here. It seems the village of SL has plenty of sand on a 220 acre piece of land located across from the sewage treatment plant. They are now applying for a mining permit to take sand from the site. This means that the old sandpit area can be freed up for purchase by whomever (Wal-Mart). And guess what? It just so happens that the 220 acre site is perfectly suitable for a housing development. That means future housing development at the old sandpit site no longer need concern us. Funny how things just happen to fall into place, especially when no really knows what is going on.

Wal-Mart and County Wide Poverty

A paper by Stephan J. Goetz and Hema Swaminathan of the Dept. of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology at the Penn. State University can be found here and a pdf version here.

These authors conclude: After carefully and comprehensively accounting for other local determinants of poverty, we find that the presence of Wal-Mart unequivocally raised family poverty rates in US counties during the 1990s relative to places that had no such stores.

The authors questioned why this happened. One fascinating possibility was that by destroying the local class of entrepreneurs, the Wal-Mart chain also destroys local leadership capacity. The destructon of small, locally owned businesses may also reduce civic capacity, an essential ingredient for economic growth.

The paper contains the data and the statistics, but a less academic interpretation can be found here.

The article concludes with the following: "Community leaders hoping to expand their region's employment base by 'landing' a Wal-Mart will be disappointed," Goetz says. "What we think is happening is that, although Wal-Mart may increase the real purchasing power in a community by offering lower-priced goods, the store is so tremendously efficient in deploying its workers that the net employment effect is zero."

More Front Page ADE Wal-Mart News

NOTE: The entire text of this article can be found here at the Lake Placid News web site.

Headline: Reactions mixed to co. mgr's Wal-Mart dealings.

Linda Piro (CARD): "We were very excited, we've been hearing for years that (local officials)have been looking at bringing a retailer to town, and I was thrilled to learn someone actually was."

Mark Kurtz (SAGA): "He's a public official, and (as such) needs to be a lot more honest with the public he serves." "We want this whole thing out on the table, and it needs to be out from day one." "He excluded the whole community".

Shirley Seney (North Elba Town Supervisor): "We asked him to try and keep his ear to the ground and assist in finding a business to replace Ames" "But nothing happened. As far as I was concerned, it was a dead issue."

Joyce Morency (St. Armand Town Supervisor): "I didn't know he'd had meetings with them and that the village board wasn't involved - after all it's their baby."

Tom Michael (Democratic mayoral candidate):"I was very disturbed by his announcement and the way he chose to make it" "Who is he to make business decisions on behalf of the village of Saranac Lake without consulting its elected officials?"

Jeff Branch (Village Trustee and Republican mayoral candidate):"I'm glad we found out the who behind the what" "He was just doing what he was directed to do. I would have liked to have known, but was it necessary? I don't think it was necessary." [Should be a good mayor, he doesn't think it's necessary to know what is going on, very President Bush of him. PS: as I've pointed out previously, I am a liberal and obviously a Democrat and thus biased]

Susan Waters (Democratic trustee candidate):"They (the village board) should have the authority to say, 'This is our business, and you need to keep us informed'". Linda Piro (CARD, Republican trustee candidate, BOE member) replied:"If he believed he was working in the capacity of his job, then not necessarily" "Sometimes, you do need to do things privately. I am glad he stepped in when he did because it was starting to cause real problems for the board." [Yet another candidate that doesn't think the village needs to know what is going on]

Good reporting by ADE Andy Bates.

ADE would do well to consider up-grading the content of their website.

Guest Commentary by H. Riley - ADE Mar 1

Unfortunately, there is no way to link to the guest commentary by Howard Riley in yesterdays ADE. The ADE website is a bit of a joke and they could learn alot from the Plattsburgh Press Republican and WNBZ radio.

The commentary was called "Shock and ah, ah, ah???"

Mr. Riley wrote:

There was shock and no awe, maybe outrage, when Mr. Donaldson said he had single handedly (with the blessing of the Essex County Board of Supervisors) successfully negotiated a deal over the past three years to bring Wal-Mart to town.

He went on to write:

The big revelation by Mr. Donaldson was that this educated, bright, articulate mayor and board of trustees had been left out of the loop, were never told by Mr. Donaldson what he was doing and did not know one thing about this deal until he appeared at the meeting.

Then, instead of the mayor and the trustees being outraged at this usurpment of their authority, and to add further to the embarrassing situation, not one of the trustees said a word - not one word of surprise, not one question of Mr. Donaldson about his actions and not one word of explanation of how they had no clue that the biggest piece of property needed for Wal-Mart was owned by the village.

and my favorite:

And no one knew anything about Wal-Mart for all those years? Sorry, boys, that dog won't hunt.

I wish everyone had the opportunity to read the whole commentary. First, because Mr. Riley is an extremely talented writer, second, because he has many excellent points to make, but mostly because the way this whole Wal-Mart 'situation' has been and is being handled has been screwed up from the get go.

As Mr. Riley says:

Everyone agrees that we need a retail department store in Saranac Lake, and maybe it will have to be Wal-Mart. But that ought to be decided by our village board and the Chamber of Commerce and the local merchants, which are the lifeblood of our economy, not by the Essex County manager and the Essex County Board of Supervisors.

NOTE: The Essex County Board of Supervisor better check on what else Mr. Donaldson has been working on over the last several years.

Wal-Mart Political Cartoons


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I Orchestrated Wal-Mart Deal - ADE Headline Tue Feb 28

The mystery was layed to rest Tuesday evening at the SL Village Board Meeting. Essex County Manager Cliff Donaldson announced to the board that he was the one involved with Wal-Mart all along. This appears to let the pressure off the members of the Village Board who have denied all along that they knew nothing about Wal-Mart wanting to locate in SL.
According to the ADE, some of Donaldson's comments include:

"No one bothered to ask me what I was doing."
"I don't think I overstepped my bounds."
"I didn't think (telling the board) was necessary because we didn't have anything firm."

2004 Wal-Mart Hourly Pay

Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott, Jr.
(based on $17,543,739 per year, 40 hours per week) $8,434.49

Average Full Time Wal-Mart Employee $ 9.68

Select subcontractors:

Bangladesh $0.17

China $0.17

Indonesia $0.46

Nicaragua $0.23

Swaziland $0.53

CEO Scott has claimed that the company’s profit margin per worker is too small to allow them to pay workers more. Lee Scott, “Wal-Mart’s Impact on Society: A Key Moment in Time for American Capitalism,” (advertisement) New York Review of Books, April 7, 2005, pp. 5-6.

Sweeney and Donaldson on WNBZ

Go here to listen to a radio interview of John Sweeney and Cliff Donaldson concerning the Wal-Mart issue.

Donaldson was just following directions given to him by the Essex County Board of Supervisors several years ago. He had no contact with the Village Board of SL but did inform Ed Randig that a major retailer was interested in locating in the village. When asked if leaving the village officials out of the loop was 'right', Donaldson replied, "Well it's in Essex County." But was there big box interest in a downtown site that is located in Franklin County also? I wonder why building in that location wasn't further pursued by Mr. Donaldson?

Donaldson also said he has "no regrets" on how he handled the issue. It was interesting that he said 'lines of communication should now be kept opened'. However, it appears that he did not do a good job at keeping lines of communication open with his board members or the Village of SL board members.

Donaldson is convinced that "you're going to see business grow...". Where is the proof of that statement? Repeating it endlessly does not make it true. Published academic studies disagree.

John Sweeney, not being a professional politician, didn't have a lot of points to make although he attempted to come across even handed concerning the Wal-Mart issue. He said "This is an option. We still have lots of things to do."

Concerning the Essex County Board of Supervisors 'resolution of support' for Wal-Mart that was tabled last week, Donaldson said it will come up for a vote next Monday and he believes it will pass.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Wal-Mart/Walton Philanthropy

I've added a link to a report done by the National Committee for Responsible Philanthropy. It's called The Waltons and Wal-Mart: Self-Interested Philanthropy.

One conclusion:

In point of fact, behind the Wal-Mart facade, the goals of the company and family have nothing to do with promoting the community's or the public's or even their customers' interests. Instead, there is one goal, and that is to make one of the wealthiest families in the country even richer.

A point of interest to me:

While Bill Gates is the richest person in the world, the combined fortune of the Walton family is nearly twice the size of Gates' wealth. But as the figure below shows, the Gates Foundation's assets of more than $26.8 billion are more than 36 times larger than those of the WFF. In addition, in 2003, the Gates Foundation's total giving exceeded $1.18 billion compared with the $106.9 million given by the WFF.

This is a fascinating report to read. Can you imagine what the Walton family could do for this country and the world if they really cared? While the Gates Foundation is trying to rid the world of tuberculosis, AIDS and malaria, the Waltons are insuring that they get to keep their billions. Read the report before you start criticizing it. It may surprise you.

Please Be Civil

Wal-Mart is a divisive topic and this is a biased blog, but please try being somewhat civil in your comments, especially when they concern named individuals. One thing I do believe is that people are doing what they think is right for the community.

PILOT for Wal-Mart in Ticonderoga

The only Wal-Mart in the Adirondacks so far is the Ticonderoga Wal-Mart store. When that 111,000-square-foot store was proposed in 1997, the company said it would not seek a PILOT, but it later applied for and received a 10-year PILOT agreement.

LOHR McKINSTRY Plattsburgh Press Republican

Let's Work From the Top Down

In todays Plattsburgh Press Republican:

Supervisor Joyce Morency (R-St. Armand), whose town borders the site where the new 120,000-square-foot retail store would be built, asked the County Board of Supervisors to support and aid the project.

But Supervisor Shirley Seney (R-North Elba), in whose town the store would be located, asked the board to do nothing yet.

"This is in the Town of North Elba, and no one has asked us to support it," Seney said. "I respectfully ask my colleagues to hold off until we know what they (residents) want."

Don't bother waiting to see how the residents of SL will handle the Wal-Mart issue, just bypass them and start supporting it at the County level. Might as well ignore the residents of the Town of North Elba while you are at it. At least Ms. Seney cares about what the Town of North Elba residents think about Wal-Mart locating here. Thank you Ms. Seney.

Village Board Mtg Feb 27

As reported today in Plattsburgh Press Republican:

Essex County Manager Clifford Donaldson told the Saranac Lake Village Board and dozens of onlookers Monday night that it was he who rekindled Wal-Mart's interest in Saranac Lake.

"It's good for the Village of Saranac Lake, it's good for Essex County," Donaldson said Monday night.

Donaldson pointed to a December 2002 resolution by the Essex County Board of Supervisors that he said directed him to seek a major retailer to fill the void left by Ames' closure.

So Mr. Donaldson was only doing what he was told. However, wouldn't it have been nice if maybe he had at least told the mayor of Saranac Lake and the North Elba Town supervisor what he was doing? The Essex County board of supervisors believe Wal-Mart will be good for Essex County. What evidence do the supervisors have for that belief?

Donaldson has been a fan of Wal-Mart since the early 1970s, when he was a student at the College of the Ozarks in Arkansas, where Wal-Mart was founded.

Well isn't that nice for Arkansas? More about Wal-Mart's 'philanthropy'above.

Monday, February 27, 2006

ADE Letters to the Editor - Feb27

Some excerpts:

1)Behind Wal-Mart 100%. 121,000 square feet is not too big. It includes grocery store. Much smaller than Plattsburgh 203,000 sq ft Wal-Mart. As for health insurance, how many small downtown business owners offer health insurance?

My questions are a) what size population does it take to support a 121,000 sq ft Wal-Mart when there is another store 50 miles away and possibly two additional future stores about 50 miles away? b)how many small businesses make as much as Wal-Mart so that they could afford health insurance for their employees?

2)Village Moving Away From Why We Came Here. We can discuss choices and perhaps make some.

3)Wal-Mart Makes Me Worry About Village's Future. Wal-Mart is not why I moved here. Moved to SL to change life style. The threat of an enormous retailer with questionable ethics makes me very uncertain about my future here. This town has fantastic and unique characteristics that must be cherished, and I think it's a shame that not everyone is able to realize this.

4) How Much Did Randig Really Know? "He said they initially looked at buying a downtown block of property but then found out about the sandpit site." My questions are: how long has Mr. Randig known Wal-Mart was interested in the sandpit site?

5) Wal-Mart Has Proven to be a Bad Company. But when you get their products home, you realize how low the quality of their products are. They violated their 1992 storm water permit so drastically in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas that the EPA fined them $5.6 million.

6) Being Against Wal-Mart Makes No Sense. ...from my experience, a Wal-Mart will be very good for this area. Have they even considered the amount of jobs it will create? I am sure robots will not operate the store.
[see robot post below]

7) Wal-Mart's Jobs Aren't Worth Getting. As Wal-Mart announces its plans to enter SL, I am concerned with it's projection of jobs to be created: 275-300 new positions.

8) Irresponsible for ADE to Allow Poll Comments. I was appalled at how offensive some of the comments were. Some contributors even named members of our community as personal targets.

I agree, but I think the ADE adequately defended themselves in an Editorial last week. Freedom of the press and speech etc.

9) Wal-Mart: Big Shop of Horrors? SL is a very special place and we deserve an affordable place to shop, somewhere that's accessible to our senior citizens, a good tax base and a place where local people can work and thrive in their community! But let's be very sure we can and want to pay the price. Let's be very sure we're not inviting in a Goliath who has no regard for the people who nurture, feed it.

David beat Goliath once, but I've heard that Goliath wins 9 out of 10 times.

Village Board Meeting Tonight Feb 27

On the agenda:

Executive session to discuss: the proposed acquisition/sale/lease of real property when publicity might affect value.

In other words, we need to keep this secret.

Economy in Crisis

See the new link to

"8,600 of our best companies have been sold to foreigners in the past 10 years (e.g. Movie Industry – 75%, Book Publishing – 63%, Cement Industry – 81%, TV Manufacturing – 100% and our Auto industry is a thing of the past).

See comments on this topic by Thom Hartmann here.

Wal-Mart: Don't Ask Them About Robots

"Wal-Mart representative Christi Gallagher, the company's spokeswoman on supply chain and technology issues, took my call. She also happens to be the media point person on labor relations and employment litigation.

As soon as I mentioned robots, Gallagher seemed eager to end the call. "We are not looking into robots in any way, shape or form," she said abruptly. I tried probing for more, but she had nothing further to offer."

More here.

You can replace a lot of people with inventory taking robots. Robots don't need healthcare and we get even lower prices.

NOTE:In 2015, at about the same time that the airlines are laying off all of their pilots, Wal-Mart or Target or some other large retailer will be introducing a totally automated inventory management system. Every shelf will be fitted with RFID tags and bar codes, allowing a mobile pick-and-place robot to find the exact shelf location of every product in the store. Every individual product in the warehouse will also be fitted with an RFID tag and bar code, so the robot will be able to pick up and identify every product that it needs to shelve. A relatively simple computer vision system will allow the robot to stack items on the shelves. These inventory management robots will operate 24-hours-a-day shuttling merchandise from the back of the store onto the shelves as items are sold. The robots will also constantly straighten the shelves and re-shelve merchandise. All of the technology needed to do this is nearly in place today. Read more here.

Just a Simple Misunderstanding

Was the money raised by associates to help a two year old heart patient or not?

"A lot of benefactors had thought that the money was going to Joey Arena," he said. "And a lot of them are now upset, including Congressman Dennis Moore, who was there last year and who believed his contribution was going to Joey Arena. ...

Read more here.

Adequate health insurance sure would have come in handy for Joey's family. Instead Dad got fired.