FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
It is necessary to address the remarks made by County Chairwoman Shawna Black at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature (minute 44:06). Her analysis, furthered by reporting in the Ithaca Voice, that there is nothing to see in the substantial number of documents that the County released to the public that evening is disappointing although not unexpected. Chairwoman Black’s accusation that it is defamatory for me to air concerns about an apparently unethical relationship between a county official and members of the press is false. Likewise, her assertion that the Communication Director’s actions were proper because there was no “abuse of power or misconduct” is akin to saying that you weren’t robbed because the thief picked your pocket instead of mugging you. In reality, the emails that have been released DO reveal a pattern of improper influence as well as a series of problematic interactions between a placating editor and her censor.
Amid a flurry of invoices for a significant advertising purchase at Tompkins Weekly, and a bitter email from another publication’s editor who apparently missed out on this revenue from the County, the unsavory discourse is revealed. “My sincerest apologies if this article’s subject upsets you,” Tompkins Weekly Editor writes when the Director of Communications requests post-publication edits. On at least three occasions we witness the Director of Communications take issue with either the content or the context in which faithfully transcribed quotes from community members and public officials are presented. What is chilling, is the Director’s apparent expectation that Tompkins Weekly will make every effort to rewrite articles at his direction. Sensible readers are asking, why is the County Communications Director repeatedly seeking to alter the opinions of the subject of an interview after the article has been printed? Why couldn’t the Director of Communications simply issue his own statement to the public whenever an article offended his personal assessment of events and circumstances?
There remain additional Freedom Of Information Law (FOIL) requests to be fulfilled, but regardless of the grave concerns many share concerning the role of the Communications Director and the County, the primary issue remains the safety of our residents. What is perhaps most alarming in all that has transpired since I first alerted the public to this issue on September 7th, is that with the exception of Chairwoman Shawna Black, who reached out yesterday, not one of my colleagues on Common Council, the County Legislature, or any member of the press has contacted Bangs Ambulance to learn more about how their EMS crews are compromised by the dire staffing emergency at the Ithaca Police Department. For any Reimagining to ever be successful our emergency services partners cannot be shut out of the process.