Mar 13, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Saratoga Springs City Council to young sledders: Use common sense

My neighbor is a law-abiding citizen who wants to set a good example for her second-grade daughter. So rather than simply ignore the “no sledding” post that suddenly appeared in January near a short, low-grade, unobstructed slope in Congress Park, she reached out to City Hall by phone and email to make a case for removing the sign from that area.

For four weeks my neighbor was bounced between well-meaning but ineffectual people in the mayor’s office and the public works department and was finally told that the sign was posted in error and would be removed that day.

It wasn’t.

This is a textbook example of the inefficiency of Saratoga Springs’ commission form of government, which is designed to have no one in charge. The mayor can eventually determine that a sign should be removed but lacks the power to direct public works staff to remove it.

My neighbor didn’t give up. She spelled out the situation in an email to City Council members and politely brought the matter to their attention during the public comment period of their Feb. 6 meeting.

Long-tenured City Council member Skip Scirocco, the commissioner of public works, responded at the meeting, saying the signs were posted to keep sledders off steep slopes near trees or stumps. Scirocco said “it’s not an issue” on the mild slope if children are supervised and people use “a little common sense.”

One of Scirocco’s council colleagues, Accounts Commissioner John Franck, whose oversight responsibility includes “risk management,” added that years ago an accident on a steep hill in the park had raised insurance issues. But neither he nor anyone else disputed Scirocco’s statement that parents needn’t worry about supervised youngsters sledding in the area that can barely be called a hill.

You can see and hear what my neighbor considered to be a satisfactory response from Scirocco on the video of the meeting, which is readily available on the city’s website. But that part of Scirocco’s comments are totally absent from the written meeting minutes, which are also on the site.

As a lifelong journalist, I know reporters must pick what to include and what to emphasize. They must condense long and sometimes rambling statements. And they must decide what to leave out. A clerk responsible for creating minutes of a public meeting faces similar challenges. In this case, the Feb. 6 meeting minutes ought to be amended to note Scirocco’s unequivocal assurance in response to my neighbor’s specific concerns.

My neighbor didn’t want the lesson for her daughter to be that it’s OK to ignore official signs. But at least she received the City Council’s promise that common sense would prevail in allowing children to enjoy mild sledding in that safe little section of the park – even though the poorly placed sign remains, two months later.


Mar 13, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Stefanik offers weak explanation for partisan vote on Russia probe

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik cites 2018 elections for supporting partisan end of House probe into Russian interference.

A day after the Republicans on the House intel committee announced its conclusion of its Russian interference (totally excluding the committee’s Democratic members), this area’s congress member, Republican Elise Stefanik, offers this weak explanation for supporting a totally partisan action in what she calls a “bipartisan investigation.”

She went along with her GOP majority colleagues in light of “2018 primary elections already underway and only several months until the mid-term elections.”


She says she will “continue to be an outspoken supporter of the Mueller investigation, which I believe is best equipped and our best hope to get to the apolitical truth.”

Meanwhile, she considers her committee’s incomplete report finished, and the Republicans can tout its findings, which fly in the face of what our nation’s intelligence has established about Russian interference and the unresolved question of collusion by Trump or his family and supporters.

Mar 12, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Silent Stefanik should justify vote on House Judiciary Committee

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik should tell us how she justified her vote.

To U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, who likes to tout transparency: Please tell us how you, as a Republican member of House Judiciary Committee, justifies closing the Russian election interference probe without committee Democrats, and drawing conclusions in direct conflict with U.S. intelligence. Your silence on anything controversial is deafening.



Feb 22, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

How I Spent My President’s Day Weekend in New York City

Following the Hudson River on Amtrak.

Overlooking St. Patrick’s

Egyptian doppleganger?

Pleading for her sister’s life in “Last of the Mohicans” painting.

Poached egg on avocado toast at The National.

“Come From Away” set at Schoenfeld Theatre.

When you’re done with deadlines and your spouse has a three-day weekend, a weekend in New York City is a perfect getaway.

My husband invited me to surprise him with tickets to the Broadway show of my choice, and I chose “Come From Away.” This uplifting, low-key musical focuses on 9/11 – yes, the day of the 2001 terrorist attacks — when 38 planes were diverted to a tiny Newfoundland town, focusing on real townspeople and passengers (all played by a solid 12-member ensemble).

I’d seen it last fall, loved it, wanted to see it again and guessed, correctly, that he’d enjoy it, too. This Tony-winner is charming, funny, moving and, most of all, an affirmation of the goodness of people.

Also good for the soul was our morning at The Metropolitan Museum of Art for the “Atlantic Crossings” exhibit featuring the work of Thomas Cole, known as founder of the Hudson River School of landscape painting in the 1800s. I especially liked the portrayal of a scene from James Fennimore Cooper’s “Last of the Mohicans.”

I also liked seeing in person the huge Washington Crossing the Delaware and John Frederick Kensett 1869 painting of Lake George, whose framed print hangs over my fireplace. The Met is so large and varied that you can wander through one wing or another for hours. Seeking out a restroom, I happened upon Egyptian mummies and the actual Temple of Dendur from 10 B.C. during the reign of Augustus Caesar.

The Met was a change of pace from my go-to Museum of Modern Art, which is across the street from our go-to southern Italian restaurant, Il Gattopardo. I order something different almost every time we eat there (Saturday it was chickpea soup and the special pasta with mushrooms), and I’m never disappointed. For a full breakfast, we like The National, where I’m partial to the poached egg on avocado toast, something I’d never make at home.

My other pampering for the weekend was a 36th-floor room overlooking St. Patrick’s Cathedral across mid-town Manhattan all the way to the Hudson River.

Keeping with the Hudson theme, I picked the right side – which is to say, the left side – of the train leaving Penn Station, following the partially frozen water past the Catskills all the way to Rensselaer County, where Albany’s Empire State Plaza pokes up across the river.

Feb 7, 2018 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Pulitzer-winner Eyre an inspiration to future (and current) journalists


Pulitzer-winning reporter Eric Eyre, whose newspaper filed for bankruptcy.

An email arrived today that illustrates why I remain optimistic about journalism despite being worried to death about its future.

It started last week, when I asked my journalism students at the University at Albany to read the work of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner of their choice and email the writer some questions. Four students chose the investigative work of Eric Eyre of the Charleston (W. Va.) Gazette-Mail, who won, as explained on, “For courageous reporting, performed in the face of powerful opposition, to expose the flood of opioids flowing into depressed West Virginia counties with the highest overdose death rates in the country.”

Today, Eyre sent me this email: “Hi Barbara: Just trying to figure out the best way to answer these questions from your students. Our paper filed for bankruptcy last week and things are a bit hectic right now.”


This Pulitzer assignment was intended to inspire the next generation of reporters, not scare them into public relations.

Niraj Chokshi summed up the situation in a Feb. 2 New York Times story about the bankruptcy: “For decades, The Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia has exposed corruption, greed and incompetence with a tenacity that was rewarded last year with journalism’s highest honor, a Pulitzer Prize. But the newspaper now faces a painful reality: No matter how strong its journalism, no publication is immune to the economic pressure on the industry.”

Don’t I know it. My heart aches as the hedge fund that owns my hometown paper continues to squeeze the life out of the newsroom I managed for more than 30 years. Granted, we didn’t win a Pulitzer. But in 2017 the East Bay Times in Oakland, Calif., owned by the same fund, did – for exposing the city’s culpability in a fire that killed 36 people. Yet the staff there is also shrinking through buyouts and layoffs.

Journalists are doing awesome work at every level, not to win awards but to give voice to the disadvantaged, the overlooked, the ordinary citizen. Doing that takes people to report the news, owners committed to journalism, and a public willing to pay for it.

Chokshi’s article offers hope that the expected buyer of the Gazette-Mail will continue to invest in its newsroom. Meanwhile, as Eyre and his colleagues wait uncertainly for what’s next, he told the Times, “The news goes on, and we’re there to cover it.”

Yet with all that going on, a thoughtful Eyre still found time to reach out to me, concerned about responding to a handful of college students 600 miles away in upstate New York. That’s class. So, while I worry about the business of journalism, I’m not worried about future journalists – not with people like Eyre to inspire them.

Jan 31, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Donors needed to match grant for state park tennis courts, lights

Saratoga Spa State Park is a local treasure, and one of its gems — the tennis courts – could get even better this summer.

The state is offering $75,000 in matching funds to add lights and double the number of artificial clay courts from four to eight. So far, about $15,000 has been raised toward the match, including $5,000 from the nonprofit Friends of the Saratoga Spa State Park (whose volunteers maintain the existing courts) and contributions from assorted tennis lovers.

The courts are open to all players, no charge. More people will be able to enjoy them, for a longer period, if enough donations are made to the Friends of the Saratoga Spa State Park at 19 Roosevelt Drive, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866, or online at

As the snow falls, I’m grateful for my Saratoga Regional YMCA membership and the use of their indoor courts. But truth be told, I can’t wait to get outside on the clay.

Jan 26, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

‘The Post’ reminds us: A protected press protects the public

The Pentagon Papers revealed how four presidencies misled the public about an unwinnable war.

A friend of mine who admits to applauding at the end of movies said she was in good company at a recent showing of “The Post.”

“What do you think,” she asked her politically conservative husband as the credits rolled, “is the audience full of liberals?”

“No,” he replied. “Patriots.”

A round of applause!

I wouldn’t give “The Post” a best movie Oscar; despite a terrific cast and riveting premise, it was a bit sappy. But I shamelessly and spontaneously whooped when the Supreme Court recognized the crucial role of the First Amendment and a free press in holding government accountable. I love the film’s snippet of Justice Hugo Black’s eloquent opinion about how press freedom must be protected so that it may “serve the governed, not the governors.”

I’m hopeful that “The Post” will inform a new generation about the Pentagon Papers (of 18 students in my University at Albany journalism class this semester, no one had seen the movie, one had heard of it, and only a couple were at least vaguely familiar with the Pentagon Papers).
Besides, it’s never been more important for people to appreciate the role of the press.

My stomach churns every time the president says “fake news.” When he called the press the enemy of the American people, it felt like a punch in the gut. And his flip comments and tweets inciting violence against journalists scare the heck out of me.

Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker (whose column appears in The Saratogian) this week addressed the connection between Trump’s relentless demonizing of the media and a disturbed 19-year-old’s recent calls threatening to kill CNN staff. “Fake news. I’m coming to gun you all down,” he said in one of the milder rants.

Writes Parker: “One could reasonably argue that Trump isn’t to blame for what others do or say. On the other hand, one could also posit that when the president targets journalists or media institutions by name in his frequent ‘fake news’ rants, he bears some responsibility for what happens as a result. … When a pattern of incitement can be demonstrated, should the inciter be held accountable?”

Trump’s incitement, Parker continues, “doesn’t make him culpable if someone goes off the deep end, but it does make him a despicable human being, which is bad enough. In a president, it’s unpardonable.”

Nov 13, 2017 - Journalism    3 Comments

Commissioners Misuse City Funds for Political Agenda

Counting all the valid votes in an election is a good thing, right? Of course it is.

That’s the rationale three commissioners on the Saratoga Springs City Council are giving for their decision to hire an election lawyer to oversee the process of counting absentee ballots in the hotly contested charter change vote.

In a special council meeting on Monday, Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan defended the decision on the basis that proponents of the charter change are hiring a lawyer to oversee the process. Accounts Commissioner John Franck previously told the Times Union that he anticipates the attorney working on behalf of charter change advocates would try to get votes disqualified.

But using public funds for this purpose is essentially unheard of in New York. Election lawyers to oversee ballot counts are hired by candidates or issue activists, not by a local government.

“This is among the most categorically outrageous and inappropriate uses of public money I have ever seen and I work in Albany,” tweeted Ken Giardin, a policy analyst with the Empire Center for Policy, an independent think tank.

Advocates against charter change (including Madigan, Franck and Public Works Commissioner Skip Scirocco) could hire their own attorney using private funds.

So why are Frank and Madigan leading this charge? They need every paper ballot counted to overcome the 48-vote lead pro-charter change advocates had after Election Day. It has been reported that the returned absentee ballots (more than 510) lean Republican, which anecdotally should benefit opponents to the charter change.

Franck said on Monday that his opposition to the charter change was “immaterial,” but it’s hard to imagine he would take this position if his side was leading in the vote.

This was a guest post by David Lombardo, who has covered multiple absentee ballot counts as a reporter and oversaw the absentee ballot count for Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara in 2014.

Nov 7, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Family Day Nov. 19 at Parting Glass helps health center — and families

Artwork by the late Robert Wheaton III featured on the poster promoting the free Nov. 19 Family Day at The Parting Glass.

Sue Dockrell is a sweet, soft-spoken person who has put together something to shout about: a free, local event to bring families together on a Sunday afternoon, honor the memory of her son Robert, raise money for the Saratoga Community Health Center — and offer support to others who have suffered the loss of a child.

Family Day will take place from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 19, at The Parting Glass Pub, 40-42 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs. There will be music, face painting, button and card making, and raffles and more. Admission is free.

I ran into Sue and her husband, Greg, the other day at one of their regular downtown spots, Uncommon Grounds, where they were taking a break from distributing posters for “a fun-filled community event for children and families in celebration and remembrance of Robert Wheaton III.”

Rob was 21 when he died in 2005. One of his pieces of art is featured on the event poster. Sue is excited about raising some money to support the health center, a branch of Saratoga Hospital that offers routine health care regardless of ability to pay.

And, for those walking in the Dockrells’ shoes, there will be “tools to support families in every stage of loss, including speakers, poetry, art and meditation.”

Nov 7, 2017 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Heartsick over Sutherland Springs? Heed Kristof, support Giffords

Need help articulating a convincing argument for gun safety laws, backed by credible data? Check out the column published today by the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. With supporting graphics by Bill Marsh (and a dramatic illustration by Edel Rodriguez), Kristof, as usual, doesn’t criticize, preach or pontificate. Instead, the spells out what’s not working now – for liberals or conservatives – and how, using automobile safety as a guide, much can be done to significantly reduce firearms deaths in the U.S.

Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

Like you, I am heartsick over the church shootings in Sutherland Springs, Texas. And the New York City truck deaths. The Las Vegan massacre. San Bernadino. Newtown — shouldn’t that have been enough? What is wrong with us? Where is the political courage and common sense?

Putting more guns in more people’s hands is most assuredly not the way to decrease deaths. Assault weapons, semi-automatic guns, were not on the radar of our Founding Fathers when they created the Second Amendment.

Read, save and share the Kristof piece. And if you’re inspired to act, visit and support former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’s PAC and advocacy organization promoting sensible gun legislation.