Elizabeth Lyons is city editor of the Advance-News and The Journal in Ogdensburg. She was the St. Lawrence County government reporter for Johnson Newspapers Corp. from 2001 until 2011.
Elizabeth is an Ogdensburg native and Ogdensburg Free Academy graduate who studied Romance linguistics at the University of Rochester. She lives in Morristown with her husband and two daughters. She is a Buffalo Bills fan, although she sometimes wonders why. In her free time, she is a St. Lawrence River rat, cooks as many types of cuisine from around the world as she can find ingredients for, and enjoys reading.
St. Lawrence County government was thrown into disarray last week with the announcement by District Attorney Mary E. Rain that she will convene a grand jury to investigate whether misconduct or malfeasance led to the county’s failure to apply for a grant that pays for two victims services positions in her office.
The Probation Department has applied for the grant on behalf of the DA’s office for the last 15 years. The grant deadline got missed this year, and Ms. Rain has squarely blamed County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire. I have been told Ms. Rain believes Ms. St. Hilaire deliberately prevented the department from applying for the grant.
To think the county administrator would want to lose a $500,000, five-year grant, put two people out of work and shortchange crime victims as part of a personal dig against Ms. Rain is ridiculous. I am sure if Ms. St. Hilaire were to spend half a million dollars to satisfy a grudge, she would go about it much differently.
In her bombshell public statement last week, Ms. Rain also alleged that the county has been misapplying the use of seized money from drug arrests that is spent at the discretion of the district attorney. She is taking aim at her predecessor, Nicole M. Duve, and Ms. St. Hilaire. At issue is the replacement of the Legislature chambers’ sound system, which was originally paid for a decade ago with seized drug money. Ms. Rain says that the money cannot be used for that purpose because the law states it can only be used to aid law enforcement and prosecution. County officials in the past justified using this money to purchase the sound system by saying the county board room also doubles as a court room.
Ms. Duve authorized the expenditure just before she left office. Ms. St. Hilaire and the Legislature knew about it, and nobody questioned whether it was an appropriate use of the money. Ms. Rain is going to get the state Comptroller’s Office to audit the county’s use of that fund, intimating that there is something criminal about how it has been used.
I could buy the argument that the justification for a sound system might be a stretch to meet the requirement of the law, but I have a hard time buying that there is anything criminal about it. Nobody is using that money to give a crony in another department a raise. It isn’t going straight from the DA’s fund to the county administrator’s pocket.
That being said, it probably couldn’t hurt to get some official guidance on appropriate use of that fund just so there is a clear understanding about what the DA can and can’t do with it.
Meanwhile, Ms. Rain also vowed to vigorously investigate the conduct of unidentified county department heads. She didn’t give a specific reason why. We have heard rumblings that perhaps she is trying to intimidate department heads into going along with her plan to relocate her offices, which some oppose because of the disruption it would cause to their own operations. The Legislature’s Space Committee has suspended its review of her office space proposal pending the outcome of those investigations, however, so even if that was her motivation, it hasn’t helped her cause.
I told Ms. Rain just before the holiday weekend that I disagreed with her actions and wanted to give her the chance to explain herself in this column. She unfortunately did not get back to me before my deadline, so I hope I can devote a future column to her explanation. As things stand now, it’s safe to say I’m not the only one confused by what she is doing.
Convening a grand jury to look into why somebody missed a grant application is, I believe, an inappropriate use of that prosecutorial mechanism. Implying that the county administrator and former DA did something criminal in using seized drug proceeds to replace a sound system in a board room that doubles as a court — with the Legislature’s knowledge and blessing — is going a little too far. Investigating unnamed department heads for unnamed offenses seems like a witch hunt.
If she has reason to believe that some officials’ actions have not been above-board, she should let an independent agency like the county Ethics Board investigate so there is an objective set of findings. She otherwise runs the risk of appearing to carry out personal vendettas against certain officials.
There are serious crimes in need of prosecution in this county, and Ms. Rain needs to focus on them. She was elected to mete out justice for crime victims, not run a public smear campaign against her fellow county officials.
After roughly 10 meetings over the last three months, the New York Power Authority has walked away from talks with the St. Lawrence Local Government Task Force over a 10-year review of the 2003 relicensing settlement to operate the St. Lawrence-FDR power dam in Massena.
Not that anyone is all that surprised.
NYPA has maintained for the last 10 years that the settlement it reached with communities — which by our math amounts to about $401 million all told including $115 million in cash payments over 50 years, recreational improvements, funding for an eel impact study and a defunct aquarium project — is equitable to the $973 million settlement it reached in 2005 with the city of Buffalo and Erie and Niagara counties to operate the Niagara power project in Lewiston.
Our math comes out to $401 million, and here’s how: $26 million for the defunct St. Lawrence Aquarium and Ecological Center, $115 million in cash payments over 50 years to St. Lawrence County, the towns of Massena, Louisville and Waddington, the villages of Massena and Waddington and the Massena and Madrid-Waddington school districts, $66 million for environmental projects (which includes a $24 million study of the dam’s impact on eels), $23 million for habitat improvement projects, $9.6 million for improvements at the Wilson Hill Wildlife Management Area, $4.5 million for an eel passage through the dam (the eels made out very well in this deal), $3.9 million for future habitat improvement projects, $1 million for research and environmental education in the vicinity of the project, $116 million for recreational improvements and a $36 million community enhancement fund.
NYPA’s math places the value of the St. Lawrence deal at $473.7 million. I had never seen that figure before NYPA spokeswoman Connie M. Cullen tried to set us straight on how much the deal was worth Friday. I scoured our archives for mention of that number. It never appeared. I’m at a loss for how NYPA derived it, so we are requesting a breakdown justifying that number. Stay tuned.
Then again, going into this process we knew the Power Authority was using some creative math to demonstrate how our deal and the nearly $1 billion deal Western New York communities got were somehow comparing apples to apples.
It’s not, unless one of those apples is solid gold and studded with diamonds. Does the Power Authority really think we’re that stupid?
They argue that the two settlements are equitable based on power production at each plant and population density. Well, this deal has nothing to do with population density. It’s a question of impact.
The Power Authority still controls an obscene amount of our waterfront, on which it pays no taxes. NYPA flooded huge swaths of land in the 1950s when the project was built, forcing people and businesses to move and confiscating even more of our land. The dam forever changed the St. Lawrence River, altering its natural flows, controlling its water levels, and having an adverse impact on wildlife. Let’s not forget that recreational use of the river is also affected by the dam’s impact on water levels.
State and federal lawmakers in 2005 made that same argument about impact when demanding that NYPA give some rationale for the disparity between the two settlements.
Back then, former U.S. Rep. John M. McHugh demanded that NYPA return to the bargaining table with St. Lawrence communities to make the situation right. He called the Niagara settlement a betrayal.
“Simply put, this development is a total abandonment of the promise NYPA made that the applications for license renewal between Niagara and St. Lawrence would have a sense of balance and maintain a semblance of equity,” Mr. McHugh said in a news release. “That promise has been broken, and I think it’s an unbelievable situation.”
“Unbelievable” was perhaps the best word to describe the situation then, and it’s the best word to describe the current situation. NYPA can try to say our communities are not entitled to any more money. I beg to differ.
Their take-it-or-leave-it proposal to the task force included the Northern New York Power Proceeds Act — which was intended to follow through on something NYPA had already promised the St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency but wrests control of proceeds from the sale of 20 megawatts of low-cost power away from the River Agency and bestows it on some outside board to be appointed by Albany — and the St. Regis Mohawk land claim deal recently reached by the state and the county that really has nothing to do with NYPA. The absurdity is stunning.
NYPA needs to right this wholly inequitable situation immediately and recognize that no, we really aren’t that stupid.
WE SOMETIMES HAVE CONFLICTS, TOO
Part of our job is and always has been outing conflicts of interest among public officials. But we sometimes have our own conflicts.
Living in small communities, immediate members of our families occasionally enter the spotlight because they are appointed or elected to influential positions, and we must report their actions because they affect our communities.
We must at all times be impartial in our reporting. Being related to somebody in a decision-making position on which we must report compromises the perception of our impartiality, and that is something we must avoid at all costs. The appearance of impartiality is just as important as actual objectivity.
Christine Compo-Martin was recently elected president of the St. Lawrence Central School United Teachers union. She is the wife of Daily Courier-Observer Managing Editor Ryne Martin.
On Thursday, we reported a flap between Mrs. Compo-Martin and St. Lawrence Central School board member Arthur Siebert over a recent survey of teacher morale Mrs. Compo-Martin conducted.
Mr. Martin, recognizing that it was important for reporter Bob Beckstead to write about what happened at the school board meeting while also acknowledging that some in the community could conclude that the newspaper held a bias in favor of his wife, asked another editor to review the story. He did not see the story until after it was published.
At his own suggestion, every future story mentioning his wife will be reviewed by another editor within our ranks. He will have no influence over coverage or knowledge of what is written until it has already gone to press and appeared online. That is as it should be.
We have a responsibility to our readers and the communities in which we work to be proactive in combatting any possibility that our impartiality will be compromised. I want to assure our readers that Mr. Martin has completely recused himself from any reporting or editing concerning Mrs. Compo-Martin’s role and actions as union president so that we may maintain our credibility and your trust as an impartial information source.
OUR FUTURE DEPENDS ON MORE THAN PARTY AFFILIATION
I read with mixed feelings the state legislation proposed to sell unused portions of the St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency’s 20-megawatt power allocation from the New York Power Authority and use the proceeds to spur economic growth.
The measure without a doubt has the potential to help St. Lawrence County’s existing and prospective businesses. The proceeds will fund a grant program for businesses based on criteria that includes investment and job growth.
That program, however, will be managed by a separate board called the North Country Power Allocation Board, which will be appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The legislation, which received final passage in the state Senate Friday, also says three of its five members must be St. Lawrence County residents.
The River Agency and the county’s Industrial Development Agency will have a role in helping the Power Allocation Board make recommendations about which businesses receive grants. But as the legislation is written, that’s where their involvement ends. The grants will be ultimately approved by NYPA and the state’s Empire State Development Corp.
Having the money at our disposal only does so much when our town and county representatives on the River Agency board only have so much say about what happens to it. It’s a shame that the River Agency, IDA and Local Government Task Force felt they needed to cave to pressure on the formation of a separate board to get legislation passed allowing the sale of the power. They had been working on getting legal authorization for four years, and felt this was the only shot they had at being able to sell the power.
From what we understand, our elected state representatives were not all that involved in the crafting of this bill, and that is also unfortunate.
I hope that as this board is appointed, the governor looks at more than party affiliation and chooses county residents and non-residents with north country ties who have some skin in the game when it comes to our future. We all lose if the only criteria for prospective board members are wearing the right color political jersey and doing as Albany directs them to do.
HAPPY FATHER’S DAY
Dads, today is a special day set aside for you.
If you are fortunate enough to still have your dad, let him know how loved he is today. Let him lounge in front of the ball game. Mow the lawn for him. Get him a beer. Feed him well. Do something nice for him.
I miss my own father today, but I am lucky to have a father-in-law, Patrick Lyons, who treats me like the daughter he never had.
Don’t take your dad for granted. Someday he will be gone, and you will long for every opportunity you ever missed to let him know how much he meant to you. Make sure you do something special for your dad today.
TULMAR MANUFACTURING WILL STAY
We got terrific news last week that Tulmar Manufacturing, which makes components for the transportation and defense industries, will not only remain in Ogdensburg but will expand to more than double its current workforce of four.
The company had been considering moving to Jefferson County. Rather than sit idle while yet another company left St. Lawrence County, the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority and county Industrial Development Agency were able to work with Tulmar to renegotiate its lease rates for space in OBPA’s Commerce Park. All agreed on a lower rate, and the deal was good enough to keep the company here.
We need more success stories like this. Economic development agencies too often are in a reactive position where they deal with the fallout from a company closing or leaving the area rather than being able to work with a company to keep it operating in the county.
Even for a small manufacturer like Tulmar, the IDA and OBPA recognized that every job counts. I applaud all parties for their successful negotiations and offer best wishes to Tulmar for a bright and long future in Ogdensburg.
BICYCLISTS ABOUND; BE SAFE
Warmer weather is here, so the perennial appearance of children on bicycles has also arrived.
I, like most other motorists, don’t want to run any of them over. Yet some of them make it difficult to adhere to that seemingly simple-sounding wish. The other day I saw a group of three or four kids weaving in and out of traffic, none of them wearing helmets or caring about proper traffic rules. If any of them thought they might be in danger of getting hit by a car, it wasn’t obvious. It’s by far not the first time I’ve seen a similar situation.
I see adults doing the same thing. It’s a miracle that there are not more car-bicyclist accidents than there are.
Bicyclists, I respect your right to operate your mode of transportation. But respect mine, too, please. And respect the fact that my mode of transportation is a 3,000-pound death machine. You need to follow the same rules of the road that I do for your safety and mine. Signal your turns. Keep right. Observe traffic signals and signs. And for the love of Pete, be aware of your surroundings.
Parents, allowing your child to operate a bicycle without a helmet is just plain irresponsible. Don’t let your kid’s brain get scrambled or worse. Make them wear helmets and make sure they know the rules of the road before you let them loose on two wheels.
LEGISLATION NEEDS BIGGER TEETH
Legislation that passed the state Senate last week has the potential to save counties a good chunk of change by forcing the state to send parole violators to prison after 10 business days rather than keeping them in county jails until they can be processed by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. The cost of keeping so-called “state-ready” inmates in county jails has been a problem for some time, with some of them held for months before they can be transferred to a state prison.
The state reimburses counties for a portion of the cost, but we are told the reimbursement falls far short of what it actually costs to house an inmate. It’s yet another state-imposed financial burden for counties.
Unfortunately, the state already is required to transfer state-ready inmates to prison within 10 days of county notification, but state officials seldom adhere to that rule. And what’s the incentive to? The state ends up saving money by leaving state-readies in county jails.
If it is to have the desired effect, the final legislation — which awaits passage in the Assembly — should include a provision forcing the state to make counties whole for the cost of housing any state-ready inmate for more than 10 days. That might encourage DOCCS to adhere to its rules.
Summer is almost here, thankfully, after a long, harsh north country winter.
Whenever I hear people grumble about how theres nothing to do around here, I try to remind them that we are in one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
Those of us who grew up here take the natural beauty of our area for granted. When I graduated high school, I couldnt wait to leave Ogdensburg. I told myself I that once was out and was never coming back. The bright lights of the big city beckoned, where there was plenty to do 24 hours a day.
Ogdensburg was boring by the standards of an 18-year-old who was 10 feet tall, bullet-proof, and knew everything. I was somehow better than this place. I belonged where the action was.
I lived in a city for seven years and came back temporarily in 2000. Fourteen years later, here I am. And I dont regret coming back for an instant. It took leaving this place behind to figure out this is where I belong.
No matter how much I tried to look down on the place of my birth from my new and improved big-city digs, the St. Lawrence River was always on my mind. I missed the smell of the woods and the sound of the birds. I missed the quiet at night. I missed friendly people and the kindness of strangers.
Most of all, I missed all the time I spent outdoors in summer, fishing, hiking, camping or just hanging out in the back yard. I missed the Seaway Festival, the concerts in the park, the parades all around the north country just about every weekend in the summer, the heavenly smell of a community chicken barbecue and watching the ships as they make their way up and down the St. Lawrence Seaway. The sound of a passing ship at night always helps me sleep.
When you are tempted to groan about how we are in the middle of nowhere and theres nothing to do, I want you to stop and take a look around you.
Where we live is beautiful. Take in the scenery. Go for a walk and take a look at all the beauty around you. Take the kids for a bike ride or just go sit by the water and enjoy the breeze.
And regardless of what your brain has tried to convince you is true, there is plenty to do. When was the last time you checked out one of our local museums? The Frederic Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg, the Gateway Museum in Morristown, the Depot Museum in Lisbon and any of the town museums in St. Lawrence County surely have something that will pique your interest. They are jam-packed with local history and artifacts. You might learn something about your home town you didnt know before.
Museums arent your thing? No problem. There are music festivals and concerts galore. The Madrid Bluegrass River Festival is three days of great music June 27-29 in a beautiful setting near the Grasse River. The Gateway Museum in Morristown will offer a concert series starting later this month. The Norwood Village Green Concert Series offers plenty of entertainment all summer long. Seaway Festival concerts in the park are not to be missed.
Concerts not your thing, either? No problem. If there is one thing St. Lawrence County does right, its our community festivals. And we have plenty of them all summer. The Dairy Princess Parade and festival in Canton will kick off the festival season next weekend, along with the Massena Heritage Festival. Food, games, vendors and fun for the whole family are on tap.
Later this month is the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Exhibition at the St. Lawrence Power and Equipment Museum in Madrid, where you get to see a full history of heavy equipment, along with wagon rides, and antique tractor pull, food, music and activities for kids. The following month we have the Potsdam Summer Festival, Ogdensburgs Founders Days and Seaway Festival and firemens field days in many communities. There is usually a Civil War Re-enactment weekend that month in Massena.
August is just as jam-packed, with the Gouverneur & St. Lawrence County Fair, Waddington Homecoming, and the Ogdensburg Beer, Wine, Crafts and Food festival.
And I havent even gotten close to listing all of the community events we can expect this summer.
Lets not forget about all the fishing tournaments, chicken barbecues, poker runs, pig roasts and community sports league competitions in between. If thats too much action for you and you want things to be a little more quiet, take a short drive to the Adirondack Park, find a trail head and see where it takes you. Climb a mountain. Watch some birds. Take some outdoor photos or paint a landscape. Enjoy nature.
Instead of convincing yourself that the grass is greener and better in some other far-away community, take advantage of the myriad opportunities for fun St. Lawrence County has to offer.
Summer is coming. Get outside and enjoy the place we call home.
The state is getting its house in order to prepare for the transfer of 45 acres of surplus land at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center to the city of Ogdensburg. The state Office of General Services will be up this week to conduct a survey and document what lies on the property the state approved for transfer.
The state legislation authorizing the transfer, however, stipulated that the land would be transferred for fair market value.
Seeing as a portion of the land is St. Lawrence River waterfront and another portion is prime commercial land along Route 37, city officials and state lawmakers representing the north country are anxious to find out what value an appraiser will place on it. If its a certified appraiser independent of the state who does not take into consideration that the state twice unsuccessfully tried to sell the land, the value could be outrageously high.
If its too high, the deal and its potential to jump-start the Ogdensburg economy could go nowhere.
State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, is absolutely right to push the state to transfer the land to the city for $1. The state would be completely within its legal rights to do so. Under the state Constitution, one government can transfer land to another government for less than fair market value.
State officials have said they included the fair market value language in the legislation because they didnt want to set a precedent, but its not like this hasnt been done before. The New York Power Authority transferred surplus project lands to townships for a nominal fee following the 2003 relicensing settlement for the St. Lawrence-FDR power project in Massena.
Either the city or Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority or both have been asking the state to turn over surplus lands on the campus since, no kidding, 1991.
In 1992, a city task force formally requested three parcels, two of which were for OBPA. A fair market value of $990,000 was placed on the two OBPA parcels, which totaled 60 acres. OBPA challenged that appraisal.
Two years later, OMH set an asking price of $124,000 for one 39-acre parcel that had been requested. After some back and forth, OBPA agreed to purchase the land, with the price offset by giving the Office of Mental health free rent in one of its buildings for three years and seven months.
The sale of the land was authorized in 1994 through legislation sponsored by former Sen. James W. Wright of Watertown. It carried a sunset clause voiding the authorization if negotiations did not wrap up by 1996. At that point, it looked like the land transfer might actually happen.
The following year, in 1995, OMH formed the Interagency Council on Mental Hygiene Property Utilized, whose approval was required to officially sell the property to OBPA.
The council undertook a preliminary environmental site assessment to determine whether there was any contamination on the property. The report was received in December 1995, and three months later the council determined another environmental assessment was needed.
The state, meanwhile, hired an outside consultant to conduct a best-use analysis for the property. That consultant, Texas-based The Weitzman Group, determined that the land held absolutely no value.
At that point, OBPA again requested that the state Office of Mental Health transfer the property.
The OMH council asked if it could start occupying the building under the free lease agreement pending the transfer of the deed, which they acknowledged might never take place. The transfer of the deed, after all, was contingent upon further environmental analysis and the cleanup of any contamination on the property. I could not find any evidence that more environmental investigation ever even began.
OMH moved in and starting paying rent. At the end of 1996, the authorization to sell the land expired.
The following year, in 1997, former Governor George E. Pataki announced that surplus land at the psychiatric center would be offered for sale to private bidders, including the parcel that nearly was sold to OBPA and the other parcel it requested but never got. The Weitzman Group again that year concluded that there was no value to the property, and the city asked to take control of the waterfront portions of the campus.
In 1998, the states Empire State Development Corp. offered 263 acres up to bid. There were no bidders.
In 2000, Empire State Development put 260 acres up for bid. No takers.
It took 10 years for the state, city and OBPA to end up right back where they started.
The state has put up a lot of roadblocks over the years to maintain control of land it hasnt used in decades, that no private bidders wanted and that its consultants determined was worthless.
If officials are serious about wanting to divest the state of its idle properties so more property can get back on the tax roll, they will do everything they can to allow the city to take over the property at a reasonable, nominal fee. It would be tragic if history were allowed to repeat itself.
A couple of weeks ago in this column I complained about anonymous Internet posters. There few things that annoy me more than people who post anonymously online, but this is one of them: news outlets who routinely attribute information to anonymous sources.
There is one local news outlet who we see routinely attributing information to anonymous sources. Sometimes the information they provide without attaching anyones name to it is correct. Sometimes its not.
Sure, there is a time and a place for anonymous sources. We occasionally have a need to protect a whistle blower who provides sensitive information that could result in dire consequences for them if their name was attached to it. And by occasionally, I mean almost never. I cant remember the last time it happened. Even in those instances, we only go with that information if we can independently verify it.
Fairly often we get calls from people who tell us things but dont want their names reported. We look into every tip we get, and do not report anything until we have thoroughly investigated and can verify what we were told. People have a hard time understanding sometimes why we cant just immediately post what they tell us online, but our job is not to feed the rumor mill; its to report facts.
Theres a really good reason why anonymous sourcing happens so rarely in our pages. Its not exactly ethical.
Without attributing information to a specific person, we can offer no guarantee to our readers that we didnt just make up what were reporting.
News sources who not only run with anonymous sources but immediately report a tip without thoroughly investigating it arent news sources. They are gossips. The practice is about as far from real journalism as you can get.
You might remember a New York Times reporter named Jayson Blair who suddenly resigned in 2003 after senior editors found many instances where he either plagiarized or outright fabricated material.
He made up quotes he attributed to people he never interviewed. He stole information from other news outlets and passed it off as his own reporting. Worst of all, he attributed information to anonymous sources that he had fabricated. He was able to get away with his shenanigans for about six months before the truth about what he was doing came to light.
When he left the Times, the newspaper published an extensive front-page story reporting all of his misdeeds. Blairs lack of ethics will remain an indelible stain on the reputation of a newspaper many consider among the most respected and trusted in the country.
News outlets need to maintain a level of trust with their readers. Every mistake we make affects our credibility, so we need to make sure we check our facts carefully. When we report those facts, we need to demonstrate very clearly where we got them so there is no question about the integrity of the source. When we make a mistake because we are human and it happens we correct it and in doing so state whether we made an error or a source gave us wrong information.
Every time I see information attributed to anonymous sources, I think of Jayson Blair and wonder where that information really came from.
The next time you see a report that cites anonymous or unnamed sources, ask yourself where that information originated. Did it come from a real person or the imagination of a reporter trying to get ahead? In the absence of a name, those two possibilities are equally valid.
HAPPY MOTHERS DAY
Today we celebrate our mothers. Some might dismiss Mothers Day as a holiday started by greeting card companies to make a few extra bucks, and maybe theyre right. But I dont think setting aside a day out of the year to make your mother feel special or remember her if shes no longer with you is a bad thing. I am fortunate to have two women in my life who I count as mothers: the woman who gave birth to me and raised me, Barbara Graham, and my mother-in-law, Sandy Lyons. I love them both beyond measure. If you are lucky enough to have your mom still with you, do something special for her today and tell her how much she means to you.
St. Lawrence County political committees have been searching high and low to come up with enough candidates to ensure contested races for all 15 seats on the county Board of Legislators in November. There are still seven seats for which there are either no announced candidates or no challengers to incumbents.
Holding elected office at any level of government is probably the most thankless job anyone could have. You cant make everyone happy. Ever. But elected positions, especially at the county level, are vitally important to ensure that citizens get the services they need, whether its roads that need fixing or a residents tax issue that needs to be resolved. County lawmakers can and do make a difference in their constituents lives.
Our political process only works when there are people willing to hold those elected jobs, and it works best when people have a choice of candidates. Anyone interested in running for a Legislature seat should contact their political partys local committee or their county committee chairman as soon as possible. Petitions will be circulated starting next month.
COMMON CORE TESTS
More than 100 students last week opted out of taking Common Core mathematics assessment tests in their school districts.
There has been understandable concern about the curriculum, which teaches mathematics using a philosophy that is dramatically different than past math instruction. Its difficult for parents to wrap their heads around it. Its easy for those of us educated the traditional way to think that the methodology is bizarre or wrong because we just were not taught to think that way. I personally think that the traditional mathematics teaching methods were fine because they somehow managed to propel me to college-level calculus, but Im not in the education business.
Even if you despise the Common Core way of doing things, having your child not take the test does little to solve its problems. In the absence of a standardized test, children are unable to concretely demonstrate whats wrong with the new curriculum. Without test results that show a uniformity to incorrect answers, school officials need to look at a host of classroom factors that might not give them an accurate view of how the curriculum needs to be changed.
I understand why some parents kept their children home on test day, but I dont think it was the best approach to fixing what many parents and educators view as a flawed methodology for teaching fundamental math skills.
MASSENA MEMORIALS FUTURE
Massena Memorial Hospital officials have been told they should come up with a plan to save $8 million over the next three years before the Massena Town Council will consider switching the hospitals status from a municipally owned facility to a nonprofit institution. Meanwhile, hospital CEO Charles Fahd is continuing to make the rounds to community groups making the case for changing to a nonprofit structure. His continued push toward nonprofit status is understandable.
The hospital is in a sticky situation. Even if hospital officials can manage to save $8 million over the next three years in an attempt to keep its municipal status and stay solvent, state pension costs will remain an unpredictable factor in years to come. As long as the states pension system is tied to the free market, its costs are only so predictable. If the market tanks again, pension contributions for publicly funded employees will skyrocket.
Its understandable that many in the community would like to keep the hospital the way it is. But the odds that the facility can find $8 million in sustainable cuts within three years are slim. Even then, for how long will that keep the hospital solvent, since the cost of everything keeps going up?
Whether it keeps its municipal status or is forced to become a nonprofit institution, hospital and town officials need to keep the preservation of medical services as their number-one priority. Those deciding the hospitals future must not gamble on quality of medical care for those who rely on Massena Memorial.
I remember a time before the Internet where if you wanted to share your views with someone, you either wrote them a letter, called them on the phone, or told them face to face what was on your mind.
In any of those scenarios, most of the time people knew who was talking to them. You could disagree and shake hands or exchange punches afterward. You were forced to stick to or ignore at your peril your mothers advice: If you dont have something nice to say, you shouldnt say anything.
Thats not the way of the Internet.
The Internet, while allowing for discourse to flow more freely than it ever has in the history of mankind, is also a pretty inhospitable place. The free flow of discourse it affords is a double-edged sword not only giving people some modicum of protection for saying what is really on their minds by hiding their real-life identities, but removing all accountability for making inaccurate or even downright defamatory statements for all the world to see. Anyone can post something on the Internet under a made-up screen name, or even under the name anonymous when it comes to blogs and other websites that allow readers to post something without giving your actual identity. And the people supposedly moderating these sites dont tend to fact-check what others post or give a hoot about whether a particular post could be damaging in real life to someone else.
Being someone who remembers a time when you were held accountable for the things you say, if ever I do post a comment on a website, I post under my real name first and last. I feel a moral obligation to own what I say publicly, even if people dont like it, disagree with it or dont want to hear it.
That being said, I rarely comment on anything online, mostly because I dont want to feed the trolls.
For those who dont know what a troll is, Wikipedia provides an illustrative definition: In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people,  by posting inflammatory,  extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response  or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion. 
Example: Poster 1 commenting on an article about flowers: I love flowers!
Poster 2: SHUT YOUR STUPID PIE HOLE, IDIOT!!!!!
In this example, Poster 2 is a troll.
The other day I found myself in a position where I felt a need to correct an inaccurate statement about our newspapers made by an anonymous poster on Watertown Mayor Jeff Grahams blog.
I should have known better. I fed the trolls.
The statement to which I was responding was accusing us of giving unbalanced coverage to candidates in the 21st Congressional District race, specifically showing bias against Republican Elise Stefanik of Willsboro. I was outraged that such a ridiculous statement had been made because we have in our archives four solid months worth of coverage on Ms. Stefaniks campaign, so I foolishly tried to set the record straight.
Within moments there was a barrage of comments attacking me personally. None of these posts had anything to do with whether people thought we were being unfair to Ms. Stefanik, and everything to do with how dumb and incompetent I am.
Of course, the authors of all these comments were anonymous, so its not like I can call them up and ask them why they felt the need to insult me in a public forum even though odds are none of them would know who I am if they met me on the street.
These anonymous posters are most likely campaign operatives whose job it is to post inflammatory comments on such sites, or basement dwellers with nothing better to do than pick fights with people sight unseen. And they can do that because they are anonymous and therefore cannot held accountable for anything they say.
I am by no means picking on Mayor Grahams blog. Even our newspapers allow people to comment using a screen name. Pay attention to the comments on our stories sometimes posters start out making a comment relevant to a particular story, but it pretty quickly turns into vicious comments about other posters that have nothing to do with the story that started the conversation.
It is unfortunately what the nature of Internet discourse has always been. I might think its wrong and that people by and large should show a little integrity by putting their names on what they have to say in a public forum, but my view, alas, does not reflect the reality of the Web.
I have pretty thick skin, so what was said doesnt bother me. Its the cowardice of posting anonymously that gets my goat.
Those who post anonymously should grow a set and start owning what they say to the world rather than hiding under bridges. If you feel the need to say something, take responsibility for it and take your praise or lumps accordingly, or keep it to yourself. Heed your mothers advice.
As for everyone else, take care not to feed the trolls. You never know under what bridge in a dark corner of the World Wide Web they might be lurking.
A couple of months ago I wrote in this column that the 21st Congressional District race was shaping up to be an interesting one.
Whatever interest it was building between then and now has decidedly taken a nosedive. I have not seen any of the candidates captivating north country voters. None of them have deviated from their respective national political parties talking points or offered any substantial information about how they are going to make the north country a better place to live, work and do business.
Sure, when we have asked them specific questions they answer with a little detail about how they want to jumpstart the north country economy or protect Fort Drum or whatever. But even those details have not lent a lot of substance to where they stand on specific issues.
They are all in favor of jobs. They all want lower taxes. They all want Fort Drum to stay where it is. I am sure they all also like Mom and America and apple pie.
None of them has outlined exactly what their goals are or how they could accomplish them. Its all well and good to say you want to lower taxes, but how are you going to do that? How are you going to create jobs? How are you going to jumpstart the north country economy? How?
As I was pondering this column, I wondered if maybe I was being unfair. So I went to each of their campaign websites, hoping to uncover information that maybe I hadnt yet seen.
The campaign sites for Republican Matt Doheny of Watertown and Democrat Aaron Woolf of Elizabethtown give a good amount of biographical information about the candidates but do not offer much information, if any, about where they stand on the issues. Republican Elise Stefanik of Wilsboro, in addition to offering comprehensive biographical information, has multiple bullet points on her website that offer two-paragraph blurbs about her feelings about the economy, finance, the environment and a bunch of other issues. But alas, only a few of the pages about specific topics seemed to be working Friday. Even those that did work didnt really didnt say much about anything she could do to support her beliefs if elected. I looked for a website for Republican Joseph Gilbert of DeKalb Junction, who says he is still in the running, possibly as an independent candidate, but could not find one. His Facebook page contains a lot of information about his feelings about various topics, which I am sure some voters would find helpful, but no information about specific goals or how he would accomplish them.
The only way a voter would get anything close to substantial information about these candidates is to read the profiles our newspapers and other media outlets have written about them. Even then, those profiles only offer a glance into their views and goals. And no one has a specific plan to accomplish whatever goals they have outlined.
To make matters worse, the campaign rhetoric has already devoled into sniping, with the Doheny campaign painting Ms. Stefanik as a D.C. insider and Mr. Woolf as a carpetbagger. Mr. Woolfs campaign has been attempting to tie Republican Congressman Paul Ryans budget proposal to Mr. Doheny and Ms. Stefanik. The Stefanik campaign so far has kept its blows above the belt, but seems to mostly want to talk about repealing Obamacare.
I wonder if any of them has actually met the people of the north country. The average north country voter doesnt pay enough attention to the House of Representatives inner workings to know whats in Paul Ryans budget or why they might be inclined to care about it. They might not particularly care that Ms. Stefanik while in her early 20s was a White House aide under President George W. Bush. Since when does taking aim at an opposing candidates college internship lead to campaign victory? And how can a freshman lawmaker set repealing a newly enacted federal law as a realistic goal? Good luck with that.
At least they all say they arent fond of the states Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act. Thats nice, but the mathematical calculations associated with the probability a federal representative will be able to do anything to do away with a state law work out to exactly zero.
North country voters need and deserve substance from their congressional candidates, and so far none of them has delivered. Until any of the candidates can outline some realistic, attainable goals to make the north country a better place, the only conclusion any of us can draw is that whoever gets our vote will just be a mouthpiece for whatever national political committee is supporting his or her congressional bid. North country voters deserve better than that.