Friday, March 31, 2006

March Finale

ELECTION NOTES. Recent elections in GreeneLand villages were noteworthy for lack of contestation, for low turnout (occasioned by lack of contestation), and for retention of incumbents. Tannersville did have a contest for Trustee, with Linda Kline (Democrat) out-polling Kevin Tucker by 92 votes to 31. In Hunter, unopposed incumbent Michael Tancredi was returned by a landslide margin of 22 votes, those being all the votes that were cast. In Athens, two incumbents sought re-election, and both were successful, as could have been anticipated in light of the fact that they too were not opposed. Still, some Athenian voters went through the motions, giving 99 votes to Dominick Multari and 80 to Andrea Smallwood. Contests did occur in Coxsackie, drawing to the polls an almost respectable number of voters: 617, from a pool of 1790 eligibles. Victories were achieved by the two short-term incumbents (recent appointees, filling vacancies), Joseph Zanchelli (378 votes) and John Oliver (344), who out-polled Democrats John Benson (249 votes) and Crystal Palmer-Bull (193). Noteworthy about that outcome is the fact that the leading vote-getter had been Coxsackie’s most vocal, steadfast opponent of the prospective United Mobile Homes development. That distinction was disregarded in pre-election coverage of the race in The Daily Mail. It was disregarded too in the Mail’s editorial endorsing Mr Zanchelli and Mr Oliver. Readers were invited to believe that all four candidates were about the same in qualifications and in policy orientations. In Catskill, 438 of the 2300 registered Village voters turned out to settle contests for Village Trustee and Village Justice. Trustees Jim Chewens and Forest Cotten (both standing as Democrats) were re-elected by 302 and 270 votes, respectively, out-polling ex-Trustee Paul Rosenblatt (206 votes). Veteran Chuck Adsit won another term as Village Justice, with 288 votes to 124 for challenger Rita Landy. Chewens’s victory, and its size, came in the wake of sustained, anonymous, personal attacks from some Catskill firefighters, who used Seeing Greene’s open-to-all Comments section as vehicle. Their sorehead faction evidently is tiny.

OF POLITICAL ADVERTISING. Newspaper publishers do try to prevent the use of advertising for political ambushes. They try to block eleventh-hour attack ads, whose timing prevents the target from mounting an effective response. But some preventive policies are poorly conceived. Mr Cotten pointed that out recently, in a letter to Roger Coleman, publisher of Hudson Valley Newspapers. “Your policy on political ads,” he said, “makes no sense.” The rule is that copy for all political advertisements must be submitted by the last Thursday before a Tuesday voting day AND that those ‘final’ ads be re-runs of previous messages. One consequence of that policy, Mr Cotten pointed out, would be that a new “Vote Today!” ad suitable only for polling day would be unacceptable. Worse yet, if Candidate A submits an attack ad on the ‘final’ pre-election Wednesday, for publication on Thursday or afterward, his opponent is precluded by the publisher’s rules from mounting a retort. If he submits his reply by the end of the day on the final pre-election Thursday, it would be fresh material and hence would be unacceptable. “Thus,” says Mr Cotten to Mr Coleman, “your rule makes no sense”; “it does not meet your stated goal of preventing last-minute attack ads.” A “more compatible system,” says Mr Cotten, would be to notify all candidates that all their contemplated advertisements must be submitted no later than seven days before an election. On that ‘final’ day, all candidates are invited to review each others’ ads and, if they wish, to prepare, within 24 hours, “counter-ads.” “If they don’t come in and review the Ads, then that is their choice.” SCHOOL LITIGATION NOTE. Over in Dutchess County, the Rhinebeck School Board agreed recently to pay $151,500 in settlement of a lawsuit. The Board had been sued for damages arising from alleged sexual harassment of students by the high school principal, Thomas Mawhinney. The lawsuit was filed in 2003, in Federal court in White Plains. It charged that District officials had turned a blind eye to persistent complaints about sexual harassment of students by Mawhinney, and had participated in punishing a staff member who supported the complainants. According to the news story in the Kingston Daily Freeman, Mawhinney had been the target of complaints previously, and had been formally disciplined on that account. Also, when the Board eventually took up the current case, it placed Mawhinney on leave with full pay. These and other facts of the case, along with terms of the settlement (who gets what share of the payment) were furnished to the news media in response to inquiries and even ahead of specific inquiries. Question: Why cover this Dutchess County matter in a blog that is devoted to events in Greene County? Answer: the conduct of the Rhinebeck School Board serves to mark a contrast with the conduct of a GreeneLand school board. The Rhinebeck Board volunteered information about the existence and substance of a lawsuit against it, about the reaching of a settlement, and about the terms of that settlement. By way of contrast, the Catskill Central School District’s trustees, for all their pretensions to transparency of conduct, have never voluntarily acknowledged the fact that they were the target in 2004-06 of a lawsuit by an employee. They never shared with the public the news that they were being accused of fraudulently demoting or dismissing an employee, and of doing so as an act of punishment for his extra-curricular political activities. They did acknowledge (only when asked in a public forum, and only through their Superintendent) the existence of a settlement, but refused to discuss its terms. They accordingly did not confirm or deny that 35,000 taxpayers’ dollars had been given to the plaintiff, Stanley Dushane, or that Board members who were close personal friends of the plaintiff had participated actively in this decision. This apparent devotion to opacity seems to be evident in the report of the State-sponsored audit of the accounts of Catskill Central School District. The lengthyhg51-page report compiled by Alex Varga & Co. deals in broad categories with assets and liabilities and with revenues and outlays during 2004-05. In a pie chart it portrays seven types of expenditures, from Instruction (61.56% of all) down to Other (0.23%)—which is held to be differ from General (23.7%). Absent as a category of expenditures, or as a sub-category or sub-sub-category, is litigation expense.

MAUL NOTES. “MAN HOLDS REAL ESTATE HOSTAGE OFFICE FOR 3 HOURS” = top page-one headline, 3/28/06. *“HEAT SWELTER KNICKS with 111-100 win” * “If elected, …the faces on the Village Board will not change in the near future.” * “There are currently three seats up for re-election: Manny Amado, Carrol Mercer and Barton Wallace.” *“Local Law Three of 2006 amends the Dogs and Other Animals Law with the intent of deterring pet owners, especially dogs, from defecating on property, public or private, other than the owners. This is commonly known as the ‘pooper-scooper’ law.”

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