Monday, October 21, 2013

Skidmore debate to be pre-empted by Justice for Darryl rally tonight

Tonight the Skidmore College Republicans and College Democrats are holding a candidate forum from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Spa in Case Center. All of the city candidates will attend and give a three-minute speech. After, the students and public will have the chance to talk with the individual candidates.
All are welcome.
Before the forum, the Committee for Justice for Darryl will hand out information flyers demanding an independent investigation regarding the Aug. 31 police pursuit that left 21-year-old Mount in a coma from which he has not awoken.
According to a press release sent out by local blogger and rabble-rouser John Tighe, the fliers will target the current Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen, who has insisted there is no need for an outside investigation.
Here's a segment from the press release:
We pledge as a group and individually to keep the handing out of flyers low key and non- accusatory, we will not impede traffic either by motorist and or pedestrians. We believe that this is a public meeting and governed by the New York State open meeting laws. We are expressing our first amendment rights in a respectful, nondisruptive and peaceful way.
Please join us and demand a real change from the police and public officials.
The Committee for Justice for Darryl
I will probably pop by and snap a few photos tonight. 
In other news, there were some very interesting statements made during the public comment period at the City Council meeting last Tuesday that The Saratogian will be digging into shortly. Several people spoke about unsavory encounters with city police, including violence and racism. If you want to hear and see what they said first-hand, go here and click on the second webcast from the top which starts at 7 p.m.
Other cities have come up with creative solutions to rein in their police officers. The Minneapolis City Council recently decided it was going to make its police department wear body cameras to save the city money. In the past five years, the city settled police misconduct lawsuits for around $8 million, and thought the body camera tactic might just save them some money.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

This isn't a popularity contest; it's journalism

I want to take a moment to respond to all the criticism regarding Darryl Mount and our coverage of this story.

My job as a journalist is to report the various sides of a story, regardless if I agree with them or not, just like it is the job of law enforcement to investigate a serious accident, even if the person injured was a 21-year-old with a criminal past. 

It’s my job to ask questions and to report back to you on what I’ve learned. Sometimes the facts are indisputable. But many of the things people tell me are their opinions, and it’s your job as readers to sort them out and make up your own minds. 

Up until the most recent article, our coverage of the police pursuit that ended with a young man in a coma was lacking, because it was based solely on what we were told by the police department.

The first time we report anything that is not from the police is the fourth article, when reporter Lucian McCarty speaks with Darryl’s family. This story garners very little information but reveals that the family believes there is more to the story and that they are pushing for an independent investigation.

Here are the stories:

·         Aug. 31 – The first story comes out, based solely on what police have told the media.
·         Sept. 1 – The follow-up story comes out and there is no mention yet of scaffolding, again it is based on the information police have released to the media.
·         Sept. 2 – For the first time police say Mount fell from scaffolding; the police are the only sources we have used.
·         Sept. 3 – Coverage of Justice for Darryl rally in front of City Hall. His family declines to comment on what they believe happened.
·         Sept. 7 – A brief article is released giving the detail of a fundraiser for Mount.
·         Sept. 10 – Police refute police brutality allegations concerning made at a City Council meeting by Guy Pierce about himself, as well as allegations that Mount was abused.
·         Sept. 23 – My story with Mount’s family speaking out on the day of a fund-raiser on his behalf.

As far as I was concerned there was more to the story, a side that the mainstream media hadn’t reported. So when Darryl’s aunt agreed to sit down with me for an hour-long, on-the-record conversation, I paid her the same courtesy that I pay everyone else. No more and no less. I listened and I asked questions, followed up with the attorney and wrote a story.

It was an unpopular story with commenters, but I’ve never been much for popularity contests. The negative comments escalated so quickly about Darryl and his family that we just turned them off.
Anyone can leave a putrid comment in the ease of their anonymity; can say that Darryl got what he deserved, that his family are gold diggers. But remember that a culture is not judged by how well we treat the privileged; it’s judged on how we treat the poor, the impoverished, the outsiders. It’s easy to treat a celebrity or millionaire with respect and equity, but how are you going to treat the underdog?

I understand it’s difficult to sympathize with a guy on parole, but I refuse to accept that a criminal past excuses, justifies or condones abuse of any kind. Our job is to keep digging and to find the truth, beyond the official voices.

A civil society has standards of conduct and when they break down we are all at risk.

The press is one vehicle to monitor, investigate and report abuse or suspicion of abuse. I refuse to partake in packaged journalism or cite the same three groups over and over. I’ll find out for myself and if that makes me an outsider, then I’m probably doing my job right.

"I have this sort of heuristic view that journalism, we possibly offer hope because the world is clearly run by total nincompoops more than ever. … Not that journalism is always wonderful, it's not, but at least we offer some way out, some integrity.” — Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, in The Guardian

Friday, December 7, 2012

Death, ethics and the dark side of being a journalist


The video I shot and produced of the candlelight vigil at Shenendehowa's football field, for the four popular students, was the most difficult assignment I've ever had. I had to force myself to intrude onto people's intimate moments after the vigil and ask to interview them in front of a camera.

Fortunately, Saratogian sports writer Stan Hudy graciously introduced me to some of the people he has grown close with over the 15 years he's been covering sports in the region.

But it was still hard. There are always going to be assignments like this, all you can do is hope they will be rare but press coverage is mandatory.

Before I left my house the night of the vigil, I had triple-checked my video equipment (which I almost never do,) and convinced myself I was ready and confident to "do my job." Of course, the second I stepped out of my car and joined the 6,000 people on the football field, that confidence slipped away.

It was humbling, to be privy to that kind of event, to talk to people and record their voices and tears and to be trusted with putting the pieces of their story together.

As a journalist, the most intriguing and important stories often come from, in my opinion, asking the most difficult questions.

What I had to remind myself on the night of the vigil, is that even though something is tough, it doesn't mean people don't want to talk about it.  People do want to share their stories, their memories, emotions and opinions. It's better to at least ask and get turned down than to walk away from a story without even attempting to talk the people involved in it.


There is no disputing the fact that Dennis Drue killed two people and injured two more. Legal consequences aside, it will stain his life forever.

However I think it's important to remember that he hasn't been charged with anything yet and I think it's safe to assume after yesterday's announcement, that he was not drunk when he got into the accident.  

Today's Times Union article painted a picture of a monster, who has gone on for years as an abhorrent person. The backbone of the article were quotes from Drue's ex-landlord, who clearly had an axe to grind.

That's not to say there weren't some valid, relevant facts in the piece.

It's easier to see Drue as a monster rather than a person who got into an accident, because it distances us from him. It's easier to cope with the grief and release the anger when you have a monster to pin it on. But it's not our jobs as journalists to provide people with the monsters and gods they crave.

The dark side of being a journalist

Death and ethics are tricky areas in this line of work. When to step back and when to ask questions is something every journalist must grapple with and ultimately base those decisions on good instincts and critical thought. Stories like this one require even more than that. It requires compassion, for all the victims, even the ones we want so much to blame.

Rather than focusing on blame, I would hope we all take a deeper look at this. Two people lost their lives, let it not be in vain. Drive safer. Know that life is unpredictable and value it. Know that there are inexperienced drivers on the road, elderly people who can't see well at night or in the rain, and as shown in our police blotter every single day, people driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Forgiveness and resolving to be a better person are so much more constructive than anger alone.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Doobie Brothers and Chicago

Last night I attended The Doobie Brothers and Chicago concert and wrote a review on it this morning. The guest-singer I mentioned in the review, Gene Gilbert, doesn't have any photographs of himself on-stage, he sent me a very nice letter about it:

I am Gene Gilbert, I sang with Chicago as mentioned in your article. By chance do you have any photos that you could share with me. As a one in a life time opportunity I want to endeavor to obtain every aspect of the show as I can....In addition, my son's camera battery went dead as he used it way too much for back stage footage.

In closing, thank you for writing a nice review of me, as I personally thought I did not do well. You are way too kind.
Gene Gilbert

If anyone has any pictures of him, please send them to me and I will pass them along. My email is:

Monday, August 20, 2012

Possible bidder for county landfill?

I spoke to Keith Manz earlier today, who is leaving his position as the Director of Planning and Engineering to take over the role of Saratoga County's Public Works Commissioner, and he had some interesting news.

Manz says he is giving a walk-through of the Saratoga County landfill tomorrow morning, to a prospective bidder. He said that while he was interviewing for the new job, one of the main queries was how he could streamline the county and make it run more efficiently. One of his ideas, a popular one at that, is to privatize the county landfill. Manz is getting a running start at his new job, I wish him good luck.

Hello Saratoga County!

I am the new reporter at The Saratogian, taking over Michael Cignoli’s job as reporter for the county. I know Michael will be missed, but rest assured you will still find his words in our sports section.

A little bit about me: I recently graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia, where I earned a B.A. in Journalism. I specialized in photo journalism and had a photography internship at The Philadelphia Inquirer. After my internship I was driven to get a reporting job that would still let me play around with photography and videography on my down times. 

I grew up in Central Pennsylvania and I’m excited to be leaving the city life for Saratoga Springs, I couldn’t have imagined a better place to relocate. Everyone I run into and work with have been incredibly kind, from the people serving me coffee at Uncommon Grounds to the Town Supervisors I interview for articles. For that, I say thank you Saratoga Springs. It isn’t easy moving to a new place alone but the residents of Saratoga County have certainly eased the burden. 

If you are interested in seeing any samples of my photojournalism, take a look at:

Monday, June 18, 2012

A bizarre county stat 6/18

A remarkable streak could come to an end during Tuesday afternoon’s meeting of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors.

The 23-member board is expected to vote on whether to charge for-profit emergency medical service providers, like Empire Ambulance, to tap into the county’s 911 dispatch system.

The Board of Supervisors, on a bad year, will review more than 200 resolutions. Virtually all of them are approved unanimously because the county’s lower committees work out the kinks ahead of time.

But supervisors have publicly spoken out on both sides of the fee proposal, so it’s extremely unlikely that a vote on the subject would be unanimous. That would be a rarity in itself, but there could also be enough support to actually vote down the proposal. That is practically like witnessing the Transit of Venus.

The last time the board actually voted down a resolution was Feb. 26, 2008, when supervisors nixed a plan to support an Assembly bill that would have given towns the authority to create a new tax in order to support open space preservation efforts.

Since that date, county lawmakers have not defeated any of the past 1,014 resolutions to come before the full Board of Supervisors. That includes a handful they have tabled and never brought back for a vote, but most of those 1,014 were resolutions were approved.

The county administrator’s office verified the Board hasn’t defeated a resolution since Feb. 2008, but wanted to point out that supervisors have defeated some motions during that time frame. I’ll have more on that in a moment, but I wanted to be fair and say supervisors aren’t rubber stamping things through.

Much of the review and vetting takes place at the committee level so that supervisors have had most of their concerns addressed by the time things get to the boardroom.

They have also had pretty significant discussions at the full board level since that time, including whether to award $570,000 in open space grants (November 2011), increase the population threshold for a second supervisor and accordingly change the size of the board (August 2011), change pay rates for some county employees (March 2011), approve bonds for the Water Authority (August 2008), and authorize the expansion of the Sewer District’s treatment plant (March 2008).

I came aboard in May 2011, but I think that just about covers all of the biggest votes at the county level since 2008. If there was a big discussion to be had, the supervisors had it. Ultimately, though, all those associated resolutions passed.

I couldn’t seem to find a story about one that didn’t pass in our archives – and the supervisors I spoke to couldn’t seem to remember the vote – so the following account is based off the meeting minutes:

The legislation the county was seeking to endorse would have enabled towns to impose a real estate transfer tax, which would have been imposed on a surcharge over the median value of a home. It was proposed to generate funds to conserve open space, particularly in towns like Malta that saw developers buying, selling and subdividing land.

But objectors pointed out if a town were to acquire the property to preserve open space, it would have been removed from the tax rolls. The burden would have then been shifted to other landowners in the county because the county’s tax base would have been unchanged. So basically, if Malta enacted the law, people in Edinburg could have been making up the difference in property taxes.

It was defeated 115,680 to 73,448.

Now, my review looked at resolutions, but the county administrator’s office pointed out the Board of Supervisors has defeated “a number of” motions at Board meetings since 2008. Those include a motion to waive the reading of all resolutions in April, when they had like 30, as well as reconsider open space grant funds in December 2011. 

But those motions had nothing to do with the established committee process. They were things that were presented that day. It's very weird for supervisors to spend a month reviewing something and tweaking it only to vote against it.

“We’re pretty complete in our discussions before it ever gets to the full board,” Saratoga Springs Supervisor Joanne Yepsen said. “If it doesn’t make it through Law and Finance, it’s not going to make it to the full board.”

But this time, though, the Law and Finance Committee chose not to nip the proposal in the bud. Officials said it didn't seem right for a seven-member committee to make a decision that could affect the entire county, so any of the debate that would have ordinarily happened at the committee level is now going to happen before the full Board of Supervisors. 

"It's such an issue that they really wanted the supervisors to go home and research it themselves," Stillwater Supervisor Ed Kinowski said. He is one of three supervisors (John Collyer, Dan Lewza) who has never seen the Board of Supervisors vote down a resolution. They all came on after February 2008.

Yepsen, for the record, is voting against the current draft of the proposal. She said it puts too much pressure and risk on the public safety program, noting Empire provides back-up service to the city of Saratoga Springs. Matthew Veitch is away on business and won’t be voting, but his absence is excused, so he won’t be counted as an affirmative. Either way, he’d be voting against it.

One more stat before I go:

1,575 – Days between Feb. 26, 2008, the date of the last defeated resolution, and the Board of Supervisors’ scheduled meeting on June 19, 2012.

Until next time,