Nov 1, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Corrections and clarifications on charter post

FYI, I have modified a few lines in my preceding charter change vote post based on the corrections and clarifications kindly provided by Mike Sharp. Although my overall conclusion has not changed, the information he provided, which is posted in full as a comment, are appreciated and worthy of your consideration. For a view in favor of approving the first ballot question but not the second, I recommend you read the Saratoga Springs Politics blog thoughtfully presented by John Kaufmann.

Oct 29, 2018 - Uncategorized    2 Comments

Saratoga Springs charter changes do little to improve city operations

Changes to Saratoga Springs city government are on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Saratoga Springs voters should vote no on both charter change propositions on the Nov. 6 ballot.

This is not déjà vu. The 2018 propositions are nothing like the 2017 proposal – defeated by only 10 votes – that would have put a city manager in charge of City Hall and allow City Council members to serve strictly as legislators.

What’s on the ballot this time are changes formulated by a commission consisting entirely of the people who are running City Hall – the council members and their full-time appointed deputies, with the city attorney as chair. I attended two public sessions, read their proposals and have followed arguments for and against. My concerns about the propositions were reinforced Saturday when I received what looks like an official city mailing that eagerly promotes approval of the changes with blatantly biased and disputable claims about “enhanced efficiencies and organizational improvements.”

The major changes in Ballot Question No. 1 would:

  • Require that the mayor’s appointments to land-use boards be approved by a City Council vote. (Legitimate concerns about appointees could be addressed by revising the length of board terms and enacting term limits, and focusing on the mayor’s land-use attitudes as a key election issue.)
  • Move the Recreation Commission from the mayor’s department to the public works department. (This appears to be a logical realignment. But it wouldn’t be necessary if the public works commissioner and his full-time deputy paid appropriate attention to public priorities beyond their silo of responsibilities.)
    • Have the city lawyers, risk manager, human resources and information technology staff all answer to the entire City Council. Since 2001, this has applied to the city attorney. (The promotional material calls that giving them “appropriate autonomy.” I call having several employees reporting to a five-member council tantamount to reporting to no one. These employees should be able to serve all of City Hall while reporting to, say, the deputy mayor.)
    • Remove the stated City Council salary of $14,500 from the charter. (Whether removed or not, the council can raise the salary of the next council with a local law that would require a public hearing. By the way, the group did not seek to eliminate the lifetime health insurance available to council members serving at least 10 years, saying this would be up to the council to change by local law.)
    • Expect City Council members to hire full-time deputies with appropriate education and expertise. (A vague way to say “Don’t appoint unqualified hacks.” Council members who don’t know better ought to be bounced out of office.)

    The second of the two proposals on the ballot would add two at-large city council members. (The mailing says this “increases the opportunity to participate in city government.” True. But these legislative-only members would lack the practical access and authority of their peers, who control their specific administrative fiefdoms. Not worth the added cost of about $15,000 to $40,000 a year each to taxpayers, to start, depending on whether they accept city health insurance. By the way, this council expansion had to be a separate proposition for technical legal reasons, but the city decided that even if approved by voters it would be enacted only if the first proposal is approved as well.)

Given last year’s close vote, a change in the city’s form of government is on the horizon. Meanwhile, the new mayor decided to try to amend the city charter within the existing form of government for the first time since 2001. Restricting the task to the people whose own jobs are affected was a mistake. It was a misstep for the previous mayor’s charter group to shut out the council members and their deputies; the new mayor made the same gaffe in reverse.

It’s easy to cite operational shortcomings small and large resulting from or exacerbated by the commission form of government. Three examples: A conscientious mother was bounced between department for weeks last winter seeking a straight answer about sledding in Congress Park and ended up having to address the entire City Council. Neither an elected public safety commissioner nor his full-time appointed deputy carried out their administrative oversight responsibilities according to a pending lawsuit about police misconduct allegations. The council did not challenge a colleague’s decision to carry an unqualified relative on his department’s payroll.

I think many members on the 2018 commission worked hard to meet their charge from the mayor. Most of my experiences with City Hall have been positive and productive. Dedicated, competent people are committed to their jobs and service to the public. The city is thriving and taxes are reasonable.

But continued success depends not only on having the right people, but also the right structure. (The condescending tone and misinformation spread by some leaders of the 2017 charter movement reflect the opposite problem: right structure, wrong people.)

Despite good intentions, the charter changes on the 2018 ballot don’t offer much to make City Hall more responsive, efficient or accountable. Instead, they illustrate incurable weaknesses in the commission form of government.

Oct 1, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Laura Chodos honored for preserving past, protecting future

Laura Chodos identifies needs, sees possibilities and makes things happen, especially when it comes to learning. She is a forward-thinker who recognizes that understanding the past is essential to a better future. She is tenaciously yet humbly effective at getting things done.

Assembly member Carrie Woerner and Skidmore College President Philip Glotzbach spoke at Oct. 1 tribute to Saratoga Springs resident Laura Chodos as she was honored by the New York State Archives Partnership.Those characteristics and her advocacy for the preservation and accessibility of statewide records drew a standing-room-own crowd of admirers this morning as Laura was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the New York State Archives Partnership Trust.

The tribute for Chodos, 91, included touching reminders of her decades of productive service as described by New York State Archivist Thomas J. Ruller, Assembly member Carrie Woerner and Skidmore College President Philip Glotzbach.

Don’t glaze over the archive partnership name. The trust is a non-profit whose mission is to ensure that past, present and future records of government is preserved and used. For instance, Laura was a driving force behind the 28-year-old annual Student Research Awards designed to encourage students to create relevant projects by exploring the New York State Archives and poring through local records.

Assembly member Carrie Woerner and Skidmore College President Philip Glotzbach spoke at Oct. 1 tribute to Saratoga Springs resident Laura Chodos as she was honored by the New York State Archives Partnership.

Laura served 17 years on the New York State Board of Regents, represented the state at two White House conferences on Libraries and Technology and as stated in the event program, chaired an international task force to ensure follow-up on conference resolutions. She zeroed in on education shortfalls, such as overlooked needs of Native American children in New York. For decades she applied her international approach to educational and cultural exchanges with Russia, including the creation of a sister city program between Saratoga Springs and Chekhov, Russia.

The list of Laura’s local, state and international accomplishments is long and varied. I have long been one of her many admirers, and it was a pleasure to see her honored today.

 

Oct 1, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Digging deeper into police, city documents re Darryl Mount case

Darryl Mount is treated by emergency workers in Saratoga Springs on Aug. 31, 2013. Mount eventually died from his injuries. The photo is an exhibit in the wrongful death lawsuit brought by Mount’s mother.

The other day Saratoga Springs resident John Kaufmann wrote an updated report on the city’s handling of the Aug. 31, 2013 incident involving a police chase and death nine months later of then-21-year-old Darryl Mount, which I reported extensively this past AugustHere is a John’s piece, which includes correspondence related to his research and response to his post.

In response to an email to Kaufmann from then-Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen, I am asking Dr. Mathiesen for documents to support his statements. Also, today I filed a Freedom of Information request with the city for documents pertinent to the insurance company’s investigation of this case and the police department’s practices regarding the investigation of misconduct complaints. Dr. Mathiesen has stated that investigation cleared the police of any wrongdoing, but no such report has been made public. I emailed him about this earlier today and he thoughtfully and promptly responded, but his reply sheds no new light for lack of documentation to support his assertions.

Here is a copy of my email to Dr. Mathiesen followed by his response this afternoon and, below it, my FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request to the city for documents.

Dear Chris,
I appreciate your responsiveness to questions relating to the Darryl Mount case. I read with interest your email exchange on Sept. 22, 2018 with Jo

hn Kaufmann, which was posted on his blog, and I have questions related to two points that you raise.
In one paragraph you wrote: “I later found out that both the DA and the Attorney General were aware of the incident, had been contacted about doing an investigation and apparently decided that the investigation conducted by the SSPD was satisfactory.”
My questions: Could you please provide any documentation that indicates the D.A. and Attorney General were contacted and decided the SSPD investigation was satisfactory? When did you learn this, and from whom?
A couple of paragraphs later you wrote: “One of the investigations that were done is often ignored.  Traveler’s Insurance investigated thoroughly and decided that the Mount family allegations are baseless.  Otherwise, they would have settled a long time ago to limit their expenses.”
My questions are: Could you please provide me with a copy of the Traveler’s Insurance investigation? Who conducted this

Thank you.
Sincerely,
Barbara Lombardo

Oct. 1, 2018 response from Dr. Mathiesen to me:

Barbara,
Question #1.   I can only say that I learned this from a source outside of our department and well after I had been pressured by the Mount family and declined their demand that I call for an  investigation by an outside agency.  I was told that both agencies, as well as possibly others, had declined to initiate an investigation and it was inferred that, after looking into it, they found no reason to do so.
Question #2.   I don’t have a copy of the Traveler’s investigation.  Sometimes cases are settled rather than going to trial because the company feels that there is not enough evidence to predictably defend the City.  I was told that the reason that they were not doing so in this case was because the insurance company found no evidence to undermine the assertion that the police were not at all responsible for the injuries suffered by Darryl Mount.  That would not be surprising given that the facts gathered in this case are overwhelming consistent.
Chris Mathiesen

HERE is the Freedom of Information request I emailed to the city the morning of Oct. 1, 2018:

1. The report prepared for the city in the Traveler’s Insurance investigation of the Aug. 31, 2013 incident in which Darryl Mount was injured.
2. Any correspondence or communications between anyone in the city and the insurer related to the aforementioned incident, beginning with the time of the incident to the present.
3. Any complaints of police misconduct recorded by the city police department from 2011 to present.
4. Records of internal affairs investigations conducted in accordance with General Order 25 from 2011 to present.
5. Any correspondence or communications between the city and the Saratoga County District Attorney’s Office referencing the Darryl Mount case from Aug. 31, 2013 through 2014.
5. Any correspondence or communications between the city and the New York State Attorney General’s Office referencing the Darryl Mount case from Aug. 31, 2013 through 2014.

Oct 1, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Bigger City Council on ballot; learn more in Saratoga Springs Oct. 3

Changes to Saratoga Springs city government are on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Would Saratoga Springs be better served by a bigger City Council?

Voters will be asked on the November ballot whether to expand the council from five to seven members, among other changes. This isn’t as huge as last year’s vote on whether to totally replace the form of government. But the proposals are significant.

A public meeting is set for this Wednesday, Oct. 3 to learn more about proposed changes that will be on the ballot Nov. 6. The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. in Saratoga Springs Public Library.

I can think of pros and cons about the proposal to add two council members who will serve only as legislators, which their five colleagues would continue to be responsible for specific departments. However, I am going to reserve my opinions until after I’ve heard more about the proposal and the reasoning behind them.

The presenter will be City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis, who was appointed chairman of the 2018 Charter Review Commission.

Wednesday’s meeting is being hosted by the group that opposed the wholesale change in government that last year voters rejected by a mere 10 votes. The event is intended as an informational session. I hope people come to learn what the items on the ballot contain and what they might mean for the city.

Aug 27, 2018 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

5 years later: How did Saratoga police investigate Darryl Mount’s injuries?

Darryl Mount is treated by emergency workers in Saratoga Springs on Aug. 31, 2013. Mount eventually died from his injuries. The photo is an exhibit in the wrongful death lawsuit brought by Mount’s mother.

Approaching the fifth anniversary of a Saratoga Springs police chase that ended with injuries leading to the death of Darryl Mount — an incident that made area headlines while I was editor of The Saratogian — the Times Union on Aug. 26 published my story revealing the public was misled to believe family’s allegations of police misconduct had been formally investigated. Read the opening below and click on the link for the rest. Also, you can listen to this brief interview about the article taped Aug. 27 with Brian Shields on WAMC’s Midday Magazine.  Here’s the story:

Five years ago this week, a 21-year-old black man running from police in downtown Saratoga Springs ended up near the bottom of a 19-foot-tall scaffold with injuries that left him in a coma. He never fully regained consciousness, and died nine months later.

The official account of Darryl Mount Jr.’s death holds that he fell from the scaffold while fleeing police. His family has maintained that the injuries he sustained around 3 a.m. on Aug. 31, 2013, were inflicted by police and not caused by an accidental fall.

They implored the city to authorize an outside investigation. Police Chief Gregory Veitch and then-Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen repeatedly dismissed the family’s request and declared that the department’s own investigation ruled out police misconduct.

But in a sworn deposition in a lawsuit brought by Mount’s mother, Veitch admitted that no internal investigation into misconduct was ever conducted.

Continue story here.

 

Aug 9, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Program, shmogram — does anyone care about media mistakes?

Less than a minute into the taping of my debut on WAMC’s “The Media Project” last month, I uttered an error: I said the class I teach is part of the University at Albany’s Journalism Department. I know better. I meant to say Journalism Program.

Program, shmogram. What’s the big deal?

Just one thing: It’s wrong. The Journalism Program is part of the Communication Department.

Ninety-nine point nine nine nine percent of listeners would neither know nor care. In the scheme of media mistakes, it’s tiny.

But I believe even inadvertent, inconsequential errors chip, chip, chips away at the public’s faith in the media. People familiar with the subject they’re reading or hearing about will often spot something not quite right in the report.

I’d like to believe people realize journalists are well-intentioned, take pride in being accurate and, as humans, occasionally make mistakes. A new survey, however, casts painful doubt not just on the accuracy of the media, but the integrity of its intentions.

I blame the poll results on President Trump’s relentless, gleeful, unwarranted and dangerous aspersion of the media. But every journalist needs to be extra careful to avoid mistakes – large and small — and to promptly admit and correct the record as needed (though my misstatement on “The Media Project” will be available forever on wamc.org).

I was happy to be invited to participate on “The Media Project” again, though I’ll wait with not-so-secret dread to hear Sunday night what faux pas popped out of my mouth during this morning’s taping with Cailin Brown, Rex Smith and Alan Chartock. And you can be sure that accuracy and faith in the media will be part of the curriculum with my fall semester news writing students in UAlbany’s Journalism Depart … er, Program.

Aug 3, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Seeing the world through the eyes of an astronaut-artist at SPAC

NASA veteran Nicole Stott shared stories on the SPAC stage.

I love listening to the Philadelphia Orchestra while watching the stars from the lawn of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. But tonight the view was different: I watched planet Earth from outer space while sitting on the SPAC stage.

It was amazing.

NASA veteran Nicole Stott, who spent more than 100 days in space, shared her stories and photos of life as a shuttle astronaut and on the International Space Station – and how the experiences play into her work as an artist.

She kicked off a first-ever series of Thursday night speakers, using the conductor’s podium to address about 120 attendees sitting on the SPAC stage. The theme of the talks, as described by SPAC, “bridge the worlds of art, science, and nature.”

You can learn more about Stott, the Artistic Astronaut, on her website and read a preview of her Saratoga Springs visit in the Times Union.

Thank you to SPAC president and CEO Elizabeth Sobol for this innovation (among many she’s introduced). Tonight’s talk was so terrific that I didn’t dare post this until I’d secured my ticket for next week.

By the way, I double-dipped SPAC today, thoroughly enjoying the Shakespeare-themed Philadelphia Orchestra matinee, even in the light of day (though I hope the matinees don’t hurt overall attendance).

Jul 25, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

White House ‘official’ Helsinki transcript omits key Putin question

Who are you going to believe, the president or your own ears and eyes?

I’m asking, because the White House has altered the record of the July 16 Helsinki press conference between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

The White House, pressed about this for a week, has said the alteration was not intended and the record was corrected. But I just looked at th

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

e transcript on the White House website, and it still misrepresents the truth.

In real life, as recorded on livestreams of the event (and what you, like me, may have watched in real time), Reuters reporter Jeff Mason asked a key question: “President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?” Putin replied: “Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.”

Trump’s and Putin’s doctored version edits Mason’s question as if it was not asked.

Yes, the government is re-imagining the truth.

When the mainstream media cover news, they rarely report stenographer-style what occurred from start to finish. Links provide complete transcripts. The media’s job is to tell the story, selecting what to emphasize, what to include, what to leave out — decisions guided by standards of sound journalism but of course open to criticism.

In contrast, the government’s “official” version should be relied on as the unvarnished, unaltered, complete truth.

Instead, as The Atlantic spells out in an even-handed but hair-raising piece by Uri Friedman, the “official” version is missing the essential exchange when Putin replied that he acted to help Trump win.

Now, Trump has doubled-down on his denigration of the media, urging people not to believe what they see and hear. He is boasting that he is so tough on Russia that Putin wouldn’t want him in office. That’s exactly the opposite of what Putin told the world at the Helsinki press conference – unless you’re reviewing the “official” record of what transpired.

The White House said the alteration by omission was not sinister and would be corrected. So when will it be corrected? Are you scared for our democracy? I am.

Jul 19, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Are we on??! Half-hour on WAMC renews my respect for radio, TV

This morning was my debut as a fill-in on WAMC/Northeast Public Radio’s “The Media Project” — a weekly, half-hour discussion among four local news people about media coverage of current events.

I have no idea what I said, how I said it, how I will sound or how it will be perceived.

But I do have renewed respect for anyone whose job is to wing it on radio and TV.

I’m a print person from way back. If I have 15 minutes to turn around a story, I can write it in 15. If I have five hours, I’ll take all five. If I have three days, I’ll eat up all that time trying to improve the piece. You get the idea.

I love to write but I’m rarely satisfied with something I’ve written. I have yet to meet copy (written by me or someone else) that didn’t cry out to me to proofread, reorganize, rewrite, revise, tighten. Make stuffy sentences conversational. Scrap excess words. Dig up and move up buried leads and nut grafs (the sentence or paragraph that makes clear the point to the story). Massage or totally rewrite leads right up until the absolute deadline. That’s writing.

Then there’s radio.

Although “The Media Project” (airing on 90.3FM at 6 p.m. Sunday, 3 p.m. Monday and anytime on podcast) is taped, it’s basically an unrehearsed straight run.

Senior Producer David Guistina emails stories that may spark discussion. I studied, highlighted and spread the printouts before me. Alan Chartock kept his desk space spotless.

Senior Producer David Guistina, who is also the “Morning Edition” anchor, preps participants on Wednesday by sending emails of stories that could be fodder for Thursday morning’s taping. I highlighted and scrawled side notes on printouts of articles related to coverage of the Trump-Putin meeting, a study about news credibility, a report showing most Americans get their news on their phone, and three or four other items. I showed up 15 minutes early, which gave me a chance to catch up a bit in the beige green room with regular panelist Cailin Brown, head of the College of St. Rose Communication Department.

A few minutes past the 8:30 a.m. taping time, the show’s host, Times Union Editor Rex Smith, strode through the front door, WAMC President and CEO Alan Chartock strode out of his office, the four of took our seats in front of our mikes, baseball-capped Chartock mocked Smith’s crispy plaid button-down and, unbeknownst to me, we were off to the races.

I was silently congratulating myself for wearing a sweater, heeding previous guests’ on-air comments about the chilly studio, when Rex Smith asked me about the blog post I’d written about Trump, CNN reporter Jim Acosta and Spartacus. Huh? Are we on? Done with Deadlines! Oh yeah. Wish I’d re-read it!

My mouth opened and words came out.

What I said then and over the next half hour will be a surprise to you and me both. Did I misspeak? Did I make any sense? Did I speak in complete sentences? Did I avoid double negatives? Was it obvious I’d had only five hours of sleep and two cups of coffee? Is my longstanding dislike of the recorded sound of my own voice warranted? Don’t tell me.

Know this: I’ve long been impressed with the thoughtful, cogent comments of “The Media Project” regulars and admire them all the more after sitting in their place this morning. And I can’t wait to hear the show, which David Guistina will magically sandwich between verses of Pete Seeger’s snappy “Newspaper Man”.

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