Editorial: Whose department heads are they anyway?

Kingston Times Editor Dan Barton.

Kingston Times Editor Dan Barton.

It’s Super Bowl week, and part of that extravaganza extraordinaire is Media Day, where the players are forced, upon pain of a $50,000 fine, to face reporters and answer questions both relevant and as irrelevant as, in one Denver player’s case, whether he thought a unicorn would make a good pet. (Duh, yeah it would! Next question!)

Some controversy had swirled around Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch’s disinclination to talk to reporters and whether he would have to pay 50 large to avoid what for him is obviously a very uncomfortable situation. While watching a story on this on ESPN Tuesday night, I thought to myself, damn, I wish I could enforce fines like that on stubborn sources.

If you read our front-page story on the dispute between Mayor Gallo and Alderman Will, you know things are not currently rosy between the paper and the mayor. The mayor is alleging numerous misdeeds on the part of this paper and its writers, which boil down into this statement he left on my voicemail Friday before last: “Your paper has gone out of its way to make me look like a moron.” (My response: “Well, no, your honor, we do our job and report the news and if you don’t like the way our reporting, the accuracy of which we stand behind 100 percent, makes you look maybe you ought to rethink what you’re doing.”) Shortly before he said he wasn’t talking to us ever again (for at least the third time since he took office), he said he was imposing the same policy upon the media (and, it would seem, certain aldermen) County Executive Mike Hein imposed when he took office — all requests to speak with department heads have to go through the boss’ office first; department heads (police chief, fire chief, public works, etc.) are not allowed to speak with reporters unless that speaking had been approved by said boss.

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This is a bunch of bull, reflecting only a desire to control information and intimidate journalists (and, it would seem, disobedient lawmakers) into toeing the line in fear of being denied access to sources. Department heads may report to the chief executive, but these people are not private employees, or chattel of whomever appointed them. They work for the people and are paid from tax revenue the people are compelled to cough up, not Shayne Gallo’s or Mike Hein’s pockets. The reason we want to interview department heads is not so much to see if there’s some kind of difference of opinion between them and their boss — but if there is, and that difference impacts the operation of the people’s business, then the people have a right to know about that. We want to interview department heads because they’re always closer to the situation we want to write about than the dude in the big office, so their information is always better. We also want to know if the department heads know what they’re doing as independent public servants; if they can’t always hide behind their bosses, we’ll know if they know what they’re doing and if they were hired for their skills rather than their connections. So we as journalists reserve the right to seek comment from department heads — it’s not our job to enforce elected officials’ media policies. Far from it, in fact. We’ll keep on doing our job the best we can. As Jesse’s been saying around here this week, cops don’t stop investigating just because witnesses stop talking.

So does this mean Gallo, like Hein before him, will never take our calls again? Maybe; this is how the mayor ended his voicemail to me, in a tone approaching, but not quite reaching, the one he used with Blaber last year: “We’re done, Dan. You will never get any cooperation from me again, and you’re stuck with me for the next six years!” Strange way to announce he’s running for a second term, but hey.

* * *

Like thousands here at home and millions around the world, I was saddened to hear of the passing of Pete Seeger. Truly one of the greats has left us; his impact on our valley was tremendous. Before Seeger and the Clearwater, the Hudson was basically an open sewer and free-for-all toxic-waste dump, abused and shunned. If it wasn’t for him, who knows what the Hudson would be like today. The Clearwater reconnected the people with their river and reminded us all of how sacred and needing of our care it is.

I’m glad my fiancée, who knew him personally and looked up to him immensely, and I got to see him a few times before his passing — joining him and many others at the Towne Crier recently in singing “This Land is Your Land,” with Pete banging out the song’s chorus’ beat with his cane, was a spine-tingling moment I’ll never forget. Every time I’ve been in his presence, the goodness he projected touched everyone around him and reminded us all of the best of what our hearts contain, and how we can share that best with others. In a time full of so much doubt and trouble, his example shines and will always be there to guide us. Rest easy, Pete.

There are 10 comments

  1. gerald berke

    Mr. Barton:
    Unless the people give a shit, this is going nowhere.
    While there may a chicken vs egg question here, about who gets how nasty to whom and when (among the city players: I have commented most favorably on the quality of the writing in your paper, and you seem to insist on continuing with that excellent, it may draw some suspicion, some nefarious motive, disguised, hard to parse).
    Vis a vis communication, I would direct you and your readers to the various modalities, and especially the one that is most effective: tit for tat: you respond in the manner that you were addressed. With the essential caveat: in order to escape a death spiral resulting from any unhappy exchange, the parties must parry with kindness from time to time.
    So between Messers Gallo and Will and Dunn and whoever, when will it end?
    Which brings me to the beginning of this note: Unless the people give a shit this is going nowhere.

  2. Rainier Parade

    Gallo is completely out of control and is not fit to hold public office. He has gone off in this manner repeatedly, whenever he has to talk to someone who will not stand for his bullying behavior. It is beyond unprofessional. Gallo should resign and sign up for anger management counselling — before one of his outbursts escalates to a physical confrontation, because that’s where these tantrums are going to end up eventually.

  3. Rebecca Martin

    Thank you Dan for this most inspiring and courageous editorial. The Mayor is not going to resign, you can bet on that. It may not even be a good idea for the people of Kingston at this time given all of the important initiatives that are just starting to take hold thanks to a whole host of people making it so. Instead, what the people can do – and should do – is take the time to read the charter as it is currently written – and work with the council to revise it over time to reflect better the roles of public officials. It is so terribly general as it stands, and allows room for all sorts of interpretation which we are currently witnessing. If a strong mayor form of government is what the people wish for, then make it a priority to help to improve charter definitions. http://ecode360.com/12699984

    Or, you can consider a totally different form of government. Such as City Manager – my favorite.

    http://kingstoncitizens.org/2013/08/15/kingston-strong-mayor-or-city-manager-form-of-government/

    Use these instances to be inspired and do with you can to improve Kingston city government now for the future.

  4. nopolitics

    Gerald Berke is about the only one here who seems to think it is ok for tirades to occur on the part of leaders but somehow the media should just play dead over it. Gerald, you are more suited for the Freeman(perhaps you can if you focus there be a stabilizing influence on the muckraking Kirby), which decries the dissenters as a well-honed habit and on occasion has been known to use the tactic used by the D.A. against Mr. Lodato, which is to say if anything embarrassing occurs let us blame it on the ostensible fact that the person causing the untoward ruckus is a “psycho”, “insane”,”needs psychiatric help” or some other well-parsed media-speak preferred adjective or phrase designed to discredit whomever here in “the romper room of the nation…”
    Yet while I hate to “rainier on someone’s parade” here, despite the fact that mediaspeak would generally affirm the “rainier” post, let me side with the Berke of Gerald for a bit here, and simply say that if we wish a kinder gentler media, we need to insist it apply the same standards of restraint across the board(that is, also to mere mortals, ie, non-bigwigs, as well as politically connected/elected officials). And yet I do not recall that Dan indulged in labeling the man despite what mediaspeak might dictate would have been a grand temptation to do so–nor has he done so here. On the other hand it would be relevant to point out the fact that an anger management course would very likely be more helpful than, say, a consultation with Mommy(for example). I’m torn between 1)stating reality here and…2)stating reality here.
    So the summary here is that Mr. Barton has been eminently fair here, and the problem remains the mentality of “the Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost” heading the city government for the last umpteen number of years now. Whether we have six more years of the last of this “Trinity”(and don’t ask me which of the trinity this one is–I honestly haven’t thought about it nor is this issue all that important) is another interesting issue. I for one hope not. Ideally, the King of the County is the next one there, for his sake his salary nearly halved and hopefully his ego as well, and someone with 5000% less ego and ambition–and experience as a career county lugnut– is elected and starts serving the people of the county for a long sought after change.
    But in the end, why bother? It is cliché to think there are more folks wanting to get out of this area than are desperate to come here, and I for one am one of them, because no matter what you hope for, there will always seem to be more elected officials that seem to need Exorcisms than Priests trained to do them. I think this is the lasting meaning of the death of Father James LeBar(who served for many years at St. Joseph’s church and who was a trained and somewhat celebrated Exorcist) some years back.
    Oh, I must correct one misstatement of fact:people from Woodstock do not wear tinfoil hats. They make theirs out of papier-mâché, and learn this art from a woman named Ionica Earthmother, or something.

    1. gerald berke

      This is fun! Of course the Times and Barton are most valued contributors to the city, just about the best. But my point was that 1) the citizens of Kingston largely don’t care.. the mayor drop kicked Fuentes out of City Hall well over a year ago, 2) played belly bump with the train folks, 3) went postal on Cahill for pushing the burden of the safety off of Kingston… but then there’s the “grandpa thinks he’s a chicken and we’d cure him but we need the eggs” aspect of keeping a mayor around who is visionary… we do need the eggs.
      There is a whole lot of news, however, that gets missed in the process and school yard antics that garner front pages.
      I am greatly disappointed that the bad behavior again spills out into the streets. I am disappointed that a sense of kindness and goodwill that I thought might come from an engaged and hardworking mayor has sparked most briefly and then died. On the other hand, Kingston itself is flowering… Reher Center, Jazz ad the Stockage, the South Pine Street Farm, the Hodge Center, our brilliant LIbrary, a college campus coming to the Kingston Corridor, a brilliant nature center, the Anchor, scads and scads of really good people, the Green Line, Live Well KIngston Health Summit.. (did I see any of you there?) this is all happening on this mayors watch.
      Our best bet is to salvage this mans talent and energy, so somehow bring him around… time enough to send him packing when the term is up. And it won’t be just a matter of dumping out grandpa who thinks he’s a chicken: make sure you get eggs from the next guy too.
      By the way, the Montessori GW school is an absolute gem! Their idea and work towards a nature scape is brilliant. I see no reason why we can’t all just send some money their way and get the job done as citizens and bypass this unseemly behavior of city hall and corporation counsel to block brilliant civic action… when you’re all done writing here, send some $ to the GW Montessori school nature scape project. I think they needed $15000 and they are halfway there…
      enuff. keep on truckin.

      1. RSmith

        Yes Gerald, we know, you’re a fan of the mayor, because every time there is news, you write the same stuff over and over. Guess what? Nobody cares.

  5. gerald berke

    Ah, Mr R Smith… Mr Lincoln had an affection for General Grant and offered liquor to those who might perform as well under the influence.
    There are a number of people who feel free to go cute on critizing the mayor, of taking their issues to the press, many not signing their name… many who expect either to be excused and welcomed into the mayors chambers, all is forgiven, some who hope they are not identified. But when and if you go public in print on the mayor, yeah, you are going to hurt mayor, city, yourself, and your cause.
    What I have not seen is come 25 or so recognized leaders of the community stand together on issue, not just their own issues, but those of others: It is amazing that there are not 25 civic leaders that will not publicly stand up and support the GW Naturescape that the GW PTO and Ms Rebecca Martin, who has done so very very much for this city, my city… and then there was the disappearance of Ms Fuentes… that lady was good! but went beneath the waves without a ripple… what “oh, she could be a pain in the ass sometimes?” “Oh, yes, movies in the park? Well, yeah, that was good, but…”
    For those who are quick to decry the mayor, for balance, just as execise, write something interesting and supporting of, say, your alderman, your school… so like Lucy Brown who forgot how to smile and forgot the corners of the mouth go up, not down.
    I have strong differences with our mayor… so what. I am not about to expect that I can tee off on the man, have a good time as his expense, and then expect to be welcomed into his office… What little credibility I might have, I’d like to keep.
    But back to the notion of getting stuff done: if any of the writers here have a real identity and some real respect in the community, then you could make a sign by publicly supporting the GW Naturescape…
    And yeah, I’ll keep the lines open to our mayor: it’s a lonely position, it requires hard work and energy, and our understanding, appreciation and affection. Feel free to take this discussion offline… email, facebook, whatever…

    1. nopolitics

      1)How is email, facebook, or whatever….”offline”? (Do you define “online” as only in this forum?! If so, where did THIS idea originate?!!)
      2)RSmith is right:”nobody cares.” Nobody cares about your being offended at the least bit of criticism of the Mayor. Nobody born and raised here could ever possibly do so, because the same nonsense in local politics has been happening here for generations. You come in and cry find new this and find new that. That would be lovely, but obviously we cannot find new politics. Rebecca is doing the same thing. She, like you, have fine motives, but she, like you, is far too naive or whatever. I am not calling for surrunder or pessism, but only realism. Nobody cares about your parroting the same old thing over and over and over again, as if doing so somehow underscores the truth of it–except the most precious time such repeats are thankfully over and done with.
      3)The same old rants about folks not posting their real names ring hollow quite frankly. There are many reasons not to do so. Dan Barton is well aware of this also. The Freeman enforces that policy now, and there is no real discussion on its site anymore, quite predictably, and quite predictably that is exactly what it wanted. Gerald, you are only brownnosing the local media with this trivia. And for the most part, the local media isn’t interested in making waves, or too many waves at least…
      4)No one who rides into town from Woodstock has the right to tell anyone who has lived in Kingston most of their life what to think, feel, say, praise, or decry about Kingston. Therefore I don’t feel in the least bit interested in being dictated by you to this effect. Thankuverymuchindeed!!
      5)I have no interest in being welcomed into the Mayor’s office. He can rot in his office for all I care.
      So on a positive note, I hope everyone had a very pleasant and happy Groundhog Day!!

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