El Gato and the other new hire


el gatoHere’s a work story from 2000, give or take a year, that I wish had gone better, about a new hire.

First, I have to explain that, for a brief time around the turn of the century, my department, the New York Small Business Development Center, was taken over by something called the Institute for Entrepreneurship. It happened because IE had political clout.

There was a kickoff in which New York State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno rambled on. It was the evening of November 10, in 1999, I believe. We were all required to show up and stand around looking enthused, about what, je ne sais pas, the night before a holiday.

Felix Strevell, a former barber who inexplicably had became NYS Deputy Secretary of State headed the IE. Ostensibly, the entity was supposed to be a conduit “through which SUNY has sought public grants and private donations to expand academic research and development that could help small businesses.” But there were about 24 employees, and most of them had not much to do.

The contempt for which IE held SBDC showed up in an organizational chart I saw and wish I had copied. Every one of the IE folks was on the chart, but the entirety of the SBDC, which had been operating for a decade and a half, was in a box on the bottom.

For the most part, we at SBDC kept our heads down and did our valuable work. Occasionally, though, El Gato, as I referred to him, wanted our then-state SBDC director, Jim King to do things that weren’t allowable. Even through closed doors, one could hear the arguments. Jim King, BTW, was not related to Robert King, who was then Chancellor of all of SUNY. Robert King’s wife, not incidentally, worked part-time for the IE, doing who knows what.

The crux of the matter

The local SBDC center in Albany needed to hire an advisor to counsel potential entrepreneurs. I was the chair of the committee, which was fine; I’d done it before. This involved calling the meetings, designing the procedure, and doing the paperwork that SUNY required in terms of our process. We came up with a suitable candidate, who I’ll call CC.

Then, another member of the committee, who I’ll call Holly, said we had to hire someone else as well. What? It wasn’t anyone who was already on the list of candidates. Holly had the resume, and she expected that I, as chair, would sign off on them. I wasn’t about to do that. So SHE signed off on the mystery candidate. I told one of my superiors about it, but they felt there wasn’t much to do about it.

What I WISH I had done was to take down the name of the bogus employee and report it. But to whom? There were a few mid-level, long-term SUNY Central employees I could have, should have consulted. By the time it occurred to me this strategy, I didn’t have the bogus candidate’s name. Though, as I look back on it, they probably could have figured it out from the date of service. I was blindsided and didn’t figure out a better way to respond.


By the way, El Gato was canned in 2001, and soon thereafter, the SBDC was released from the yoke of the IE. In 2007, El Gato admitted to having committed fraud, “including using his corporate credit card to pay for a trip to Disney World, bringing his father along on two business trips to China, and arranging for a $95,000 pay raise to which he was not entitled.”

He continues to have legal trouble. El Gato was convicted in 2017 of perjury, in giving false testimony about his personal and family expenditures.

Eh. Twenty years later, this still bugs me.

Louisiana perishes; I mean parishes

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Louisiana parish mapThe August 20, 2019 comic strip Pearls Before Swine has a Louisiana joke. Pig is explaining to Goat about studying the state’s administrative map for a class. Pig worries about what happens to a couple counties if the Mississippi River floods.

Goat: Parishes
Pig: That poor county
Goat: Never mind

Yes, Louisiana has parishes as its primary substate division, whereas most US states have counties. This is as a result of the state’s heavily Roman Catholic influenced past when it was controlled by France or Spain.

Laissez les bon temps rouler! And that’s in part why there’s Mardi Gras. Let the good times roll on Fat Tuesday, before becoming solemn for Lent, starting on Ash Wednesday.

When my daughter was learning the states, she always appreciated that Louisiana was shaped like an L.

LA Louisiana. The traditional abbreviation is La. The capital is Baton Rouge; the largest city is New Orleans.


I don’t think I’ve told this work story. In 1995, I was working for the New York Small Business Development Center. Per a contract with the Small Business Administration, we were providing business library reference for ALL the SBDCs in the country between 1992 and 1998.

Part of my job was to interact with all the statewide programs. My new boss did not seem to understand this. When she decided to go to the national (ASBDC) conference in New Orleans, she decided to bring her favored librarian, but not me. She said she couldn’t afford to have three of the seven librarians out of the office for three or four days.

Meanwhile, my girlfriend had achieved some significant designation through an insurance certification entity. She received a trip for two to Honolulu for the same time frame. She invited me, but I declined. If my boss wasn’t going to let me go to Nawlins when it was work-related, she surely wouldn’t allow me to go to Hawaii. Even asking my boss if I could go to the islands, I felt would undercut my argument that I should be going to Louisiana.

At nearly the last moment, my boss decided to allow me to go to the conference after all. This was not a function of the strength of my argument. It was her realization that she and the other librarian couldn’t possibly carry all the material she wanted to bring. In other words, I got the chance to actually do my job because I could schlep stuff.

It has been the only time I’ve been to Louisiana. I ended up having les bon temps, even though it WASN’T Mardi Gras.

There are a LOT of songs about the state and its largest city. Here are only a couple.
Goin’ Back To New Orleans – the late, great Dr. John
Louisiana 1927 – Randy Newman

L is for Louisiana for ABC Wednesday

May miscellany: going postal

Those Amazon balloon packing pods do not weigh much.

Sometimes you just have to note some miscellaneous stuff. This is a picture that the Daughter took one school day on her phone in mid-May. She was waiting for the bus about 7:30 a.m. a block from our house. It was a particularly stormy morning, but it ended up being a rather nice day.
I was mailing a couple packages at the post office. One contained two large pictures in frames containing glass. So the box was very large, roughly 18″ (.46m) by 14″ (.36m) by 8″ (.2m). I ws told that I could spend $13 for six-day delivery or a couple dollars more for 2-day delivery.

But then the postal worker measured the package, then put it on the scales. Because it only weighed about 2 kg (4.5 lb), this meant its mass was less than a box of that size “should” go for. Those Amazon balloon packing pods – a level of them below the pictures and two levels above to keep the items safe – do not add much. So the priority shipping would have meant an $11 SURCHARGE (wha?), and I stayed with the ground option.
Our library recently answered its 60,00th inquiry in May, news of which was posted on the internal NY SBDC listserv. We got a lot of kudos, which is nice, because we’re a couple steps away from the client most of the time. The prospective entrepreneur comes into one of our two dozen centers across the state and speak to one of our business advisors. The advisor speaks to us, or otherwise contacts us.

My favorite advisor response, unsurprisingly, was a musical one, one of my very favorite Neil Young songs, Long May You Run, which among other things, namechecks the Beach Boys.
And speaking of music, someone took a photo of our church choir on May 21. It was the day one of our past (and hopefully future) choir members had her twin daughters baptized.

Coffin doors and sales tax on bagels

“Guests would open a compartment on the ‘room’ side of the door and hang the clothes they wanted washed.”

On the 25th of April, the family stopped at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, NY. It was worthwhile trip, highlighted by seeing several quilts, one signed by over 100 country music artists.

We traveled on to Syracuse and stayed overnight. We had a lovely time at the Onondaga Lake Park on a beautiful Sunday, though I would have felt better had I remembered my sunglasses. Unfortunately, the Salt Museum wasn’t open yet for the season.

Then I was dropped off at the “newly restored” Marriott Syracuse Downtown, originally opened in 1924 as the Hotel Syracuse. It’s true that it had a lot of old structure style, such as elevator design, though I must say they operated much faster to the 10th floor than the elevators on the previous night traveled only a couple levels.

The Daughter was jealous of my view, and my room was only on the third floor. She was particularly fascinated by the coffin doors on many of the rooms. “The doors are unusually thick because they contain an interior space for guests to hang clothes they wished to have washed or dry-cleaned in the hotel’s laundry overnight.

“Guests would open a compartment on the ‘room’ side of the door and hang the clothes they wanted washed. Without disturbing the guests, hotel employees would come around at night and remove the clothes through a compartment on the side of the door facing the hallway.”

I was in Syracuse for the agency annual conference, about the only time during the year I actually see the people for whom our library provides reference services. There were several workshops, almost all of them informative.

The librarians also conducted a session. One talked about business apps, another talked about programmatic issues. I talked about sales tax. Boring, you say? Maybe, but sales tax in New York is weird.

For instance, is a bagel taxable? “Food that is prepared and arranged on a plate or platter by the seller, and that is ready to be eaten is taxable. It doesn’t matter whether the food is sold to be eaten at the store or another place, or whether it’s served hot or cold.” (Times Union, April 28, 2011.) So if a plain, unadorned bagel had been put in a bag, it would NOT be subject to sales tax.

Biggest change I’ve seen in my job

Because everyone has access to the Internet, the questions are more specific.

PrintScott needs to know:

What is the biggest change you’ve seen in your job?

My job, which I started on October 19, 1992, has changed radically.

In case you did not know, I am a business librarian for the New York Small Business Development Center, “library information specialist,” by title. The SBDC program, which exists in every state in the US, offers free and confidential business advisement.

People come to the NY SBDC and have questions for the counselors. There’s quite a bit those professionals already have at their fingertips, but when they get a query that they cannot answer, they contact the Research Network library. We answer questions, using a number of paid databases and other resources – personally, I use the Census page quite often – send the answers to the counselors, who share the information with the client.

When we started, we had no Internet. We got our information from something called… it’ll come to me… oh, yeah, books. We would copy pages from books. This was supplemented by info from database information – some were paid services such as Nexis/Lexis, plus some on CD-ROMs. These were a pain because we had to wait our turn to use them at a dedicated machine.

The first big “breakthrough” was when the half dozen CD-ROMs were put on a Local Area Network (LAN) so that we all could access the info on the CDs AT THE SAME TIME. This sounds mundane now, but it was a real time-saver.

What did we do with this information? We printed it out and mailed it, which killed many trees and was expensive in terms of postage. And when a packet got lost in the mail, which happened, we had to start the process almost all over again. We may have saved the electronic searches, but not always the paper information.

There were programs at the State University of New York that had Internet before we did, and it was frustrating. I know that one of our library directors gave a talk to our advisors about being able to get information about the Kobe earthquake of January 1995 almost immediately. But at that moment, in the spring of 1995, only she and another librarian, out of seven of us at the time, had Internet access.

Eventually, we all got Internet connections, and this thing called email. One of my colleagues remembers sending me a message from ten feet away, and we delighted about how silly that was when I could just hand him a piece of paper, or tell him. Of course, now I email everything.

We went through a period of trying to email our information to the counselors, attaching PDFs and other electronic files. The trouble was that the recipient’s email capacity could be easily overwhelmed in those early days. As of five or six years ago, we have an electronic delivery system hosted on one of our websites where the counselors can pick up the information we’ve created for them.

One other significant change: for the first six years of the program, we were provided reference service for the whole country, through a contract with the US Small Business Administration, and had as many as seven librarians. Now we provide services just for the New York State offices and presently have four librarians.

The constant is that we provide reference service. The difference, in addition to the resources used and the delivery method, is that, because everyone has access to the Internet, the questions are more specific. Whereas we might have gotten a question for a restaurant, now it’s for a Thai-Mexican fusion restaurant.

Oh, most of the librarians make fewer calls to agencies, associations, and the like, but I find that people are still great resources.

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