Thursday, September 27, 2007

Unanswered questions

Four members of the watchdog group scrutinizing the affiliation plans of Kingston and Benedictine hospitals spent 45 minutes with our editorial board today.

For those of you keeping score at home, our editorial page has favored a merger between the hospitals for over a decade. So we're certainly encouraged that the boards and administrators not only are talking to each other, but they're of a mind to get a deal done -- even if it took a Russian roulette threat of the state Berger Commission (which said, in effect, if the hospitals don't come together by the end of the year, one would be forced to close) to facilitate it.

Last week's advancement of the affiliation concept drew supporters to witness to a contract signing ceremony at Wiltwyck, and, I'm told, prompted a standing ovation this morning from the bacon and eggs crowd at the Ulster County Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting.

But as our editorial board stated in the Sunday Freeman, too much of this work has been done in private and too many questions remain unanswered, even at this late date. That was echoed by the quartet who visited us today after the Chamber meeting. (They also reported denials of our charges by at least one of hospital president from the podium.)

For us, what it comes down to now as momentum builds between the principal players, is the old Ronald Reagan line: Trust, but verify.

Let's see the deal in writing. Let's make sure all health concerns, particularly those regarding reproductive services are adequately addressed ... again, in writing.

Trust, but verify.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The jail probe

Inevitably, the investigation into cost overruns in construction of the new Ulster County jail facility has led to a special grand jury.

The largest capital project in county history -- even before it came in years late and millions over budget -- the new jail, as it's familiarly known -- seems to have been a disaster waiting to happen right from the get-go.

All that's left is to pick up the pieces and determine once and for all how this sad story came to pass.

A legislative committee completed its thorough, but expensive ($90,000-plus) probe Monday by, among other things, pointing fingers at several prominent public figures. Today, the district attorney set the grand jury process into motion.

Some critics will not be happy unless the proverbial pound of flesh is extracted and one or more people are in prison. I don't feel that way.

Don't get me wrong. If there is criminality proven in this matter, I want the guilty parties behind bars. I just hope the facts prove otherwise. I'd prefer to believe this jail project suffered from poor oversight and human error (from which the county hopefully can learn valuable lessons), not a deliberate attempt to profit at the expense of beleaguered taxpayers.

It's hard to say when we'll know for sure. It no doubt will take a while for grand jury to do its work. And if there are indictments, trials and jury verdicts would be months away.

Perhaps a grand jury could have been seated a long time ago, but it wasn't. So here we are, on the verge of the most important investigation yet into the ill-fated project.

Clearly, the final chapter hasn't yet been written.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Scott Moone

Sorry to learn about the death of former Ulster County Legislator Scott Moone.

I didn't know Scott well. We bumped into each other a couple of times ago when I was a guest on WGHQ in the days its morning program was broadcast from Deising's. But from those encounters, as well as what I read and heard about him over the years, he seemed like one of the good guys.

It also rings a bell that Scott was involved with the fun-loving group that joked about building a subway in the thriving metropolis of High Falls.

Scott Moone was only 51, much, much too young to be taken from us.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Honoring 'The Maven'

Congratulations to Stan Fischler, a Sunday Freeman sports columnist for over 20 years, who Tuesday was named as one of four recipients of the prestigious Lester Patrick Award, presented annually by the National Hockey League in recognition of outstanding service to hockey in the United States.

"The Maven" is the most profilic hockey writer in the history of the sport. Stan and his wife, Shirley, also a Freeman columnist, have been writing about the game in newspapers, magazines and books for decades. And he's been a familiar face on cablecasts of Islanders, Devils and Rangers games.

The Fischlers have a home in Boiceville, which is how we connected years ago. I was sports editor at the time and I favorably alluded to Stan in a notes column, not knowing he was a part-time Ulster County resident and Freeman reader. He called to thank me for the ink and we've been friends ever since.

The Patrick Award is a big deal. But the real prize would be Stan's election to the writers' wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Many of the game's heavyweights have been campaigning for him. I was honored to be asked to participate in the campaign. He's not part of the class that will be inducted in Toronto in a couple of months. But it's hard to believe he'll be permanently shut out. That would be a real injustice to one of the NHL's true ambassadors.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Numbers game

Budget preparations the last couple of weeks.

Budget meetings later this week in New Haven.

Budget, budget, budget.

And you thought publishers spent most of their time playing golf, dining in fancy restaurants with decision makers and phoning in instructions from their weekend homes in the Adirondacks. Think again.

No complaints. It's the job. But between finances and human resources, there's little time for what got me into this business in the first place: reporting and editing.

Put another way, when you write or call my office with critical comments about the content of the newspaper, you'll understand why you're referred to the editors.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Accident waiting to happen

The traffic lights at the intersection of Washington and Hurley avenues in Kingston have been malfunctioning all day. Hey, stuff happens.

But with the kind of vehicular and pedestrian volume this location draws, wouldn't you expect a police officer on scene directing traffic?

Alas, it's not to be. Instead, you have motorists approaching from four different directions, trying to sneak through left or right, all on their own.

Pray for them.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

One man band

You know how I feel about anonymous comments and you know how this paper tries -- sometimes unsuccessfully -- to prevent fictitious names from being published in the letters to the editor section. Then there's the other twist.

Every year around this time (political campaign season) we start getting similarly themed letters via snail mail, all obviously addressed, written and produced by the same person, but all individually signed by different people, with verifiable names, addresses and phone numbers.

OK, you want someone else to do the writing for you, there's no law against it. But if the idea is show the editors that there's some sort of widespread philosophical uprising afoot, the scheme fails. Sure, we'll print a sample of the letters -- as I said, real people have attached their names to them. But we'd give them more credence if a one-person letter-writing campaign wasn't the source.

I mean, if you're going to employ this kind of tactic, at least do a better job hiding the ulterior motive.

In the most recent case, the letters are critical of Kingston aldermen who voted in favor of more money for the Kirkland Hotel project in the wake of a controversy involving the non-employment of unionized construction workers.

Again, the opinions are legit, so are the people. But the organized campaign isn't fooling anyone here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Soft data

*In case you're wondering -- and why would you be? -- as a followup to my last entry about airline travel, my sister-in-law's plane finally arrived in Albany the other day at 12:50 a.m., nearly three hours late. We made it home to Woodstock by shortly after 2.

*Most of you probably have seen those TV commercials with the cavemen. But if you're like me, you have no idea what they're advertising? One of Madison Avenue's basic rules is that if you don't remember the brand name, the commercial is a failure. Beyond that, I find the commercials unpleasant. Maybe it's just me.

*Besides all the other problems with her performance on MTV last night, Britney Spears ought not be wearing next to nothing on stage until she's been on a diet.

*My question to Terry Bradsaw on Fox and the copycats on the other networks' NFL pre-game shows: What's so funny? Let us in on the joke? Of course, pro football isn't brain surgery. Of course, fans want to have a good time. But these guys are trying too hard with their forced belly laughter. There is one truly humorous performer on these shows: Frank Caliendo, mimic extraordinaire, whose John Madden is dead-on.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The unfriendly skies

I'm supposed to pick up my sister-in-law at Albany Airport late tonight. I don't expect an on-time arrival. Who would? One of the few guarantees in life these days is that if you're flying someplace, it's unlikely you'll get there promptly.

Remember when flying was an exciting, enjoyable experience? Even before 9/11 that changed.

Back in the day, I can recall the family taking my grandmother to Idlewild (you know it now as JFK) for her annual flight to Florida. We would get dressed up just to see her off.

Naturally, if you were a passenger, you'd wear your Sunday finest, as they used to say. That's impractical today for a variety of common sense reasons, not the least of which is the prospect of the cattle call from the check-in counter, through security to the departure lounge, followed by shoe-horning into your seat, then hustling to a connecting flight and eventually sweating it out at baggage claim. People on board your average flight these days look like they just transferred from a Greyhound bus trip.

Meantime, you've arrived at the airport a couple of hours early, more if you're in long-term parking at JFK or Newark. You could be in the destination airport an hour after you land waiting for luggage. And that's just part of the hassle. Yet you may be able to handle it were it not for the standard flight delays caused by overcrowded skies, overworked air traffic controllers and bad weather in hub cities. (The possibility of severe weather in Chicago already had arrivals backed up over an hour today, as I write this. Of course, that's where my sister-in-law is supposed to make her connection. Or, better stated, that's where my sister-in-law will miss her connection and hope she can get the last flight into Albany.)

Food on the flight? It never was very good. Now you're lucky to get a tiny bag of pretzels. (Remember the Woody Allen line? "The food (in that restaurant) is lousy and there isn't enough of it.")

We all have tales of woe to report, so I'll stop here. Suffice it to say, it figures to be a long night for me in Albany.

Thursday, September 6, 2007


On the fly:

*The successful completion of negotiations between a variety of parties means Dean Gitter's Belleayre Resort project finally will get off the ground. Lots of compromises, plenty of goodwill, most people walking away with smiles. That's the good news. But, boy, it took nearly a decade from the time the original plan was proposed to reach this stage. And, even if it's only a formality now, the formal approval process still must take place. So don't look for shovels in the ground anytime soon. Which is to say, a developer shouldn't have to go through the time and expense to get something done in this state. Many don't have the patience and/or resources to stick it out. Put another way, if you wanted to do a deal, would you come to New York?

*You're a tennis fan. You spend more than a few bucks to buy tickets for an evening session at the U.S. Open. Two quarterfinal matches are scheduled, the first starting at 7 p.m. You arrive in plenty of time only to discover that the last of the afternoon matches is still going on. So you wait with thousands of others, crowded into the plaza outside the stadium. A little over an hour later, you're inside and the women's match begins. Nearly two hours after that, it's the men's turn. Yes, now we're talking about after 10 p.m. on a weeknight for the start of the match. Good chance you have to go to work in the morning, but you hang in there beyond 11 p.m., then midnight. It's a good match, so you stifle a yawn and let your tennis fanaticism outweigh your common sense. You stay for the whole thing. It ends at nearly 2:30 in the morning. That's insane! What a way to treat paying customers. Watching at home on TV? Also, no respect for the armchair fans. The U.S. Open is one of the few major sporting events in the metropolitan area I've never attended. If I ever think about going, remind me to buy tickets for a weekend afternoon session.

*After the governor attended the big Belleayre Resort press conference in Kingston Wednesday, he was off to Binghamton for an event tied into the first day of school. It was in the suburb of Vestal where he encountered a TV reporter who questioned him about the Troopergate affair in Albany. According to The Associated Press, Gov. Spitzer answered the reporter's first question, then a second. The third was too much for him and he admonished the reporter by saying, "Get a life buddy." Governor, come back to us. You want to change the subject? That's your right. You want to ignore the reporter? Several presidents were masters of it. But no need to let your temper get the best of you, at least not in public. The reporter was only doing his job.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Hiding in the shadows

To many, it's the appeal of the Internet. To me, it's among its biggest drawbacks.

I'm talking about anonymity.

Much of the commentary on and in response to blogs, or in chatrooms or elsewhere on the Web is conducted by people who hide in the shadows. Comments and criticisms and pronouncements and invectives often are by people who don't have the courage to identify themselves.

As Saturday Night Live's Church Lady might have said, "Aren't they special?"

Show some guts. When you chastise a reporter, or editor, or publisher, or alderman, or mayor, or congressman, etc., tell us who you are. Otherwise, be prepared for your words to be relegated to the cyberworld's version of the circular file.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Multiple choice

I got into it with a few phone callers this morning during my monthly stint on WGHQ radio.

The first thought a back-page picture of soldiers returning from Iraq to Poughkeepsie wasn't enough. Two others supported her. I didn't remember exactly how the picture was played, but I expressed satisfaction that we had a photo at all, given it was out of Poughkeepsie, where we rarely have a presence. Then I returned to the office, dug up the Saturday paper, and found a big spread, with a color photo and story directly under the weather map. It couldn't have been a nicer, more prominent layout.

All of which goes to the point I tried to make to the disappointed callers: A story in which you are interested typically warrants more coverage, in your view, than a newspaper, or a radio or TV station gives it. Why? Because it's the most important story of the day to you. Trouble is, the editors and producers have desks full of stories that are important, too. Certainly they're equally as important to those with special interests in them, just as the soldiers story was to the callers with whom I, shall we say, chatted.

Lots of factors go into the assignment and subsequent placement of stories -- space, art and the subject matter key among them. The editors have to make choices, often tough ones. And you know what? They rarely make everyone happy.