Mike Desmond

Reporter

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. He also hosts “You and the Law,” a popular segment that involves interviews with local lawyers. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.

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Erie County's fiscal watchdog became official yesterday, as David Shenk was sworn in as county comptroller, filling a spot left vacant when Mark Poloncarz became county executive.

The new comptroller faces a grueling schedule of running the office and facing up to four primary and general elections between now and the end of next year.

The vote this year is for the final year of Poloncarz' term;  the vote next year is on a full four-year term.

Shenk says he has spent his life in public service.

mike desmond/wbfo news

It's a fight over a restaurant sign, a large and not turned-on electronic sign over the door of the Hard Rock Cafe just across the street from Niagara Falls State Park.

Some local state legislators say it's a victory for local control over Albany control.

"It's the local government, in this case Niagara Falls, that makes this type of determination," said State Senator George Maziarz.

That's the issue since state law gives Albany control over signs within 500 feet of a state park.

mike desmond/wbfo news

Suicides, strip searches, grievances and overworked staff were on the floor for debate Wednesday night as Sheriff Tim Howard appeared for a meeting of the group 100 Black Men of Buffalo in the Merriweather Library.

The event was often contentious, with pointed questions and occasionally pointed answers over the issues of the county's lock-ups which house around 1500 people on a daily basis.

That costs around $83 million of the sheriff's $101 million budget.

The sheriff says he expects Albany to force a major hiring for a staff he admits is too small.

Saint John Baptist Church is being named "designated developer" for 50 city-owned lots in the Fruit Belt as it moves forward on a multi-million dollar plan to build 49 rental town houses.

They will be scattered across the community on the now-vacant lots.

It's part of a continuing expansion of Saint John and its affiliates, including a charter school, a planned second charter and the leafy McCarley Gardens housing complex which it plans to sell to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

However, there are critics of the plan.

Mayor Brown says city residents are truly concerned about the new zoning code and that's why they packed the auditorium at ECC City last night.

The last time the zoning code was replaced, Buffalo was a booming city with an industrial base and booming suburbs.

That was 60 years ago and the code has only been tinkered with since.

Now, there is a new code in the works with a final version slated to be ready for public hearings late this year.

The new code is planned to help create mixed-use, walkable places for the 21st Century.

With the possibility of spending at least $100 million on repairing Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, city lawmakers are pushing for another look at instead building a new stadium in the City of Buffalo.

Erie County and the Bills are involved in talks about a new lease, although no details are being released. The current stadium needs significant repairs, with the estimate of $100 million being used frequently, although an in-depth study apparently hasn't been completed for the Bills.

Visitors to New York State's parks may soon be limited in where they can smoke, with restrictions going into effect now.

The new restrictions aren't quite visible because the signs are only now being installed.

They will go around playgrounds, pools, beaches and food and beverage concessions.

Western District Director Mark Thomas says the restrictions reflect fewer smokers and decisions about the health effects on those who smoke and those who are around tobacco users.

He says the signs going up will show symbols rather than words.

The children's museum Explore & More wants to move from East Aurora to a Waterfront location on the site of the old Memorial Auditorium.

In a location even Executive Director Barbara Leggett says is hard to find in East Aurora, 50,000 visitors still arrive each year.

With a Downtown Buffalo location on public transit lines, she says there could be 150,000 on the Aud site.

The museum has applied to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation to be the cultural center for kids on the Waterfront.

Leggett says children's museums are different.

On this week's You & The Law, Mike Desmond talks with attorney Modesto Argenio about the need for financial planning, no matter what your age.

Argenio says financial planning covers not only a traditional will, but also health care proxies, living wills and powers of attorney.

Click the play button above to hear's this week edition.

 

The Buffalo Teachers Federation may have had its office at Porter and Niagara closed yesterday but critics of the union and the school system were demonstrating outside pushing for changes in the union contract and in city schools.

The immediate push is for the union to agree to waive a provision in the contract which requires all coaches to be certified teachers, whether they know anything about the sport or not.

Sam Radford is president of the District Parent Coordinating Council and a vocal critic of the school system.

WBFO News file photo

The long process for speeding up traffic across the Peace Bridge is shifting to improving the plaza on the U.S. end.

That's going to be a relatively small improvement compared to the $300 million plan Washington was pushing but wouldn't pay for.

With plans shown at a public display yesterday in the Niagara Branch Library, the bridge authority wants to demolish a row of houses along Busti Avenue and eventually buy and demolish the adjacent Episcopal Church Home.

mike desmond/wbfo news

The key figure in building a downtown baseball stadium will soon be memorialized with a bronze statue outside Coca Cola Field.

The statue is a little taller than the real man and he has a hair line from a long time ago and he's smiling as he begins to fire the baseball.

It's Jimmy Griffin, father, grandfather, part-owner of a baseball team, the man behind the baseball stadium.

WBFO News file photo

Solar power is a slowly growing piece of the energy picture in New York while offering jobs possibilities for all of the electrical bits and pieces other than the actual solar panels.

There is solar power used in the Empire State and the State Power Authority generates around two-and-a-half-megawatts itself although it really isn't in the solar business.  Instead, it's working with NYSERDA, the state's energy research authority, to find ways to use solar to reduce conventional energy generation demand and to develop companies which supply the solar industry.

WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley

Albany is moving forward to repair New York's aging and decrepit roads and bridges, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into an accelerated repair program.

That is on top of spending in the regular budget to turn around bad bridges and roads.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is focusing on his New York Works program, with more than a billion federal and state dollars, with $121 million of that going into 48 projects across Western New York, all to start this year.

mike desmond/wbfo news

State Assemblyman Sean Ryan is pitching a plan to take away much of the power of the six Industrial Development Agencies in the county and shift economic development control to the Regional Economic Development Council.

The IDAs would also lose much of their power to issue tax breaks, limiting it to the government they represent so that the Amherst IDA could only ease town taxes not those of every government and school district in the county as it can now.

Chippewa Street changes tonight, with a new city ordinance barring those between 18 and 21 from being inside taverns.

That's with the exception of Thursday when they will be allowed in.

Mayor Brown signed the law into effect yesterday and the Council is slated to change it today, to make those Thursday nights a six-month experiment.

Those underage customers are considered part of a safety and crime problem along the "Chip Strip," and city leaders want to fight that to avoid damaging a thriving commercial zone.

WBFO News file photo

Saying they just aren't worth the trouble, Buffalo schools want to do away with those "half-days," half-days of class and half-days of professional development for teachers.

The district has seven of them this year and wants none next year, although that depends on what Albany does about Regents tests during the year.

"There's limited benefit to the teachers and I'm sure it's very frustrating for the parents as well," said school board member John Licata.

So, district administrators argue they have to go.

Tony Campolo is a Baptist clergyman and university sociologist, has written a series of books and was a counselor to President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

All during his career, he's been involved in skirmishes with other clergy, including an informal heresy hearing.

While strongly in favor of clergy being involved in issues, he says backing candidates crosses the line.

"There's a big difference between dealing with issues and endorsing candidates," Campolo said.

You & The Law examines bankruptcy, with Western New York's Chief Bankruptcy Judge Carl Bucki.

With "synthetic pot" being seen as an increasing health problem among young people, Albany yesterday barred sale of the material and is working on making its sale a crime.

The fake pot is made in China using a constantly shifting array of chemicals sprayed on a variety of vegetation and then put into brightly labeled bags aimed at young people.

Just about everyone between 12 and 20 entering a local drug and alcohol treatment center has used the material.

Erie County Health Commissioner Doctor Gale Burstein says the material is hugely popular and hugely dangerous.

School activists say they are closer to major changes in Buffalo's student suspension system to keep students learning even if suspended.

School administrators admit the present system doesn't work well, especially when it involves sending a student home when suspended for a non-violent offense.

One student made it as far as the school bus stop where he was gunned down in a dispute he wasn't involved in.

The district has a plan to change the system and put most suspended students in a classroom in the building away from the regular classroom.

The new state budget will send extra funds to Western New York, money which will assist the financially-struggling NFTA and upgrade some of the area's crumbling roads and bridges.

State leaders are setting aside nearly $5 million to help cover an NFTA budget deficit, though transit officials say it's not enough to avoid a planned rate hike.

As for area infrastructure, bridges and roads will receive a significant increase in state funds

WBFO News file photo

The fight over millions of dollars to help turn around the city's seven most troubled schools is becoming more tangled, with the State Education Department rejecting the third deal between the schools and the Buffalo Teachers Federation over principal and teacher evaluations.

The teachers union met Tuesday night only hours after the notice form Albany on the rejection of the school improvement grant.

"I equate this with a teacher going into a class and giving a test to the class on a lesson they haven't taught," said Phil Rumore, president of the BTF.

Cheap electricity from the Niagara Power Project may soon provide more support for economic development in Erie and Niagara Counties.

Legislation in the budget hopper in Albany would set aside millions of dollars in profits from much of the electricity produced in Lewiston and put the cash into an economic development fund controlled by Governor Cuomo.

He would appoint three members of the five-member Western New York Power Proceeds Allocation Board which would run the fund.

Cultural agencies receiving funding from Erie County are facing fewer strings attached to the money coming from the Rath Building.

During recent years, many culturals were required to accept Collins Administration appointees to their boards and provide free tickets to events even if the tickets were eventually not used.

In some cases, culturals saw their money delayed until the appointments were made.

That's even when in other cases, there was no longer a county grant but the appointees stayed on boards.

This week on You & The Law, Mike Desmond talks with Vincent Doyle about state court funding.

The massive Trico plant complex on Goodell is now the object of a familiar community debate: preserve or demolish?

Hours after the city Preservation Board recommended last night the vast complex be listed as a historic landmark, Preservation Buffalo Niagara held a public meeting in the Common Council Chambers to talk about what to do with the deteriorating industrial complex.

Trico is a hodge-podge of buildings from different times built for different uses and the roof is shot, letting water and snow inside.

The crowd was smaller, but the criticism continued as the NFTA held another public hearing at the Central Library.

Reduced state and federal aid has forced the transit agency to look at service cuts and rate hikes.

An earlier proposal which would have discontinued many bus lines was abandoned after an outcry from politicians and the riding public.

A new alternative calling for a rate hike was not greeted greeted Thursday night.

WBFO News file photo

In a major political upset, South District Common Council member Mickey Kearns will be going to Albany to fill the Assembly seat vacated by City Comptroller Mark Schroeder instead of Chris Fahey, the candidate of Congressman Brian Higgins.

Going into Tuesday's balloting to fill the State Assembly, the conventional wisdom was that Democratic candidate Fahey would win, buoyed by Congressman  Higgins and his allies in a heavily Democratic district.

Pundit and analyst David Frum told an audience at Canisius College last night Republicans have to spend less time on social issues and more on economic issues which are damaging so many Americans.

The Toronto native says there have been years of downward economic pressure on most Americans and they don't like it and want change but Republicans aren't listening.

"The way you represent Americans who are under economic pressure is by taking seriously their economic interests and there are interests that are beyond simply the price of gas."

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