The Downside of Handmade for the Holidays

Each and every Needleworkers is possessed of demons though our aspirations are pure. We are Wiccans by nature no matter our denominations. We begin with Hope that our gifts will make the shadows recede just a tinge.

But never doubt that the Needleworker in the post office or on the church pew beside you is a Zombie; an innocent in the grips of an impenetrable delusion.

Needleworkers are a tortured lot.  Don’t be deceived when you come across one in the post office and s/he answers your question, “How’s it going?” with a sublime smile and glazed eyes.  Do not be taken in when the worst of us clasp our hands to our breasts  before launching into descriptions of our latest projects or newfangled yarns.

Each and every one of us is possessed of demons though our aspirations are pure. We begin with hope that our gifts will make the shadows recede just a tinge. We are Wiccans by nature no matter our denominations.

But never doubt that the Needleworker in the post office or on the church pew beside you is a Zombie;  an innocent in the grips of an undeniable compulsion.

Like any Creator – Poet, Painter,  Inventor, Metalworker or Potter  —  a Needleworker begins at the vortex of two competing and unforgiving forces: (1)  materials that call like Sirens through all fogs and  (2) an incessant, prickling Idea.  Walk through a potter’s shed.  Its shelves lined and splotched with jugs of slip and watery clay will  leave you in a state of hunger.  Hestia’s command to  “make something of use”  will thrum in your belly and a dream of beauty will whistle through your bones.  There is no escape.

A yarn stash is no different.  The play of colors and textures – fugues whispering in baskets in every room of the house.  Left-behind yarns.  Bits and pieces.  Loose ends.  Enough for a singleton sock or glove, a quarter-afghan or half a hat.

A few Needleworkers — inspired by the likes of Opie’s Aunt Bee or just loopy by nature – begin organizing for the next holiday season, birthday or Ground Hog Day  months before time.

But most of us – those who also huddle miserably on April 14th with our taxes —   surrender to the agony of making  holiday presents when the clocks are turned back in November.   “Holy shit,”  we say, models of holiday joy staring into the early night, “it’s upon me.”

Thus begins the frantic search for yarns to satisfy a yammering Idea or, as the days expire, an Inspiration to match the stash.  Throughout Thomas Kincaid’s Holidayland,  the piping tunes of happy elves drift from lemony windows and over marshmallow snow:

“Oh why oh why didn’t I wind this mess into balls?”

“Where the hell is that three foot piece of lime green!  I know I saved it for accent…”

“How could I have thought that ball was big enough for two freaking socks?”

“What if I made  four two-foot scarves and sewed them together in a kind of mosaic…?”

“Can I really knit a patchwork blanket in 33 days…?”

And on it goes, the mad scrabbling through baskets, pulling at ends that have wound and bound themselves like nettles.

To drink coffee at this stage is to explode into a billion pieces.

If you’re lucky, when all the skeins, threads and scraps have been arranged by texture, color or gauge, Inspiration will begin to surface.

You will  be impelled toward the brink of either Grace or Fire and the same inexorable Spring of Hope and Curiosity that doomed Pandora (and  most domestic cats)  will burn in you.  It’s heady.  It’s crack.  It’s the call of Eos, the eternal dawn.

At this point, I usually switch gears.  I go all Zen and surrender myself to the yarn.  I will eschew  preconceptions and  expectations,  I will  let the yarn speak; feel it flow through me. I will let it become  its true nature.  I will be a conduit for the Cosmos.  I will…

None of the effing gauges match.  I don’t have five  double-pointed size “1” needles.  I do have 3 size “0s” and two size “1s”  but I’ve tried that before and none of the fingers fit a human hand.

Ah hah!  Circular needles!  Two gloves at a time on circulars!  I know I’ve got that pattern somewhere and circulars galore….

Had Dante known about circular needles, he would have created a separate hell for their inventor.  A knitter can make anything on circular needles.  Refrigerator covers, snowmobile boots, and probably trees if you can get the threads of DNA to work just right.  The nightmare is in the limitless variety of circulars because each project requires just the right length and gauge:   42” for afghan panels and 6” for socks; and gauges from 14 mm for bulky sweaters to 0 mm for infant wear.  Obviously, since this is the Dark Edge of Creation,  we  – the Children of Ancient Handmaidens, Nurses and Conjurers  – will never have the elusive Ideal in stock.  As Ahab  or unsated Tantalus should have known,  if we are to survive the Giving Season, we must accept the limitations of our Hell and adapt.

So this year,  beloveds,  you are getting ornaments for your trees and multi-colored mittens.  Each will be a unique blend of textures and hues.

Whether or not they look or even fit right is hardly the point. Remember the year you got a dog sweater and the sleeves forced the poor animal’s legs up and out like the wings on a biplane? Remember the pooch’s worried frown and the hysterical laughter that sent tears flowing down our cheeks?  Of course you do.


Sussman: Sullivan County Retaliated Against David Sager

Mr. Sussman also commented on rumors that “documents and files are being shredded and destroyed” at the Department of Family Services. “We have heard the rumors but I have not yet substantiated them.” However, he called on DFS employees to “not be a party to any destruction of files. If you are being directed to destroy ‘stale files,’ document the direction you were given and the person who gave you the direction. Report it. Those ‘stale files’ are now evidence.”

On May 15, 2013, Dr. David Sager was terminated from his position as the Deputy Commissioner of Sullivan County’s Department of Family Services (DFS).  He was given no warning or explanation — just a letter from Commissioner Randy Parker telling him to collect his belongings and leave.

In the month since the firing,

  • a public outcry and allegations of dereliction of duty and cover-ups have  surfaced against senior officials at DFS.
  • on June 6th, Sullivan County’s  NAACP and  a union rep for Teamsters Local 445 stunned a crowded meeting room with questions about 4 million dollars  worth of services that went missing in the Foster Care Program and  about child abuse cases that were never investigated.   Those questions nearly drowned out two others:  (1)  why were so few cases of fraud investigated by the DFS legal team during the past seven years; and (2)  why are so many  of our current investigations being conducted on  old complaints?
  • an online petition  (that remains open and was initiated by the writer of this article)  has gathered 472 signatures demanding that Dr. Sager be reinstated as Deputy Commissioner of DFS and that the County Legislature conduct an immediate investigation into the circumstances surrounding his termination.  (Several signators have appended comments that allege personal knowledge of wrongdoing in DFS.)

The overflow public turnout at the Health & Family Services Committee meeting on June 6th forced a change of venue to the large Legislative chamber where several speakers stepped to the podium.

Sandra Shaddock,  Vice President, International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 445 asked the Legislators to account for  a $4 million discrepancy in the County’s funding of its Foster Care Program.

Elaine Williams and Sandra Cuellar Oxford (NAACP)  issued a Freedom of Information request “to obtain all Child Protective Services/DFS Legal abuse and neglect petitions filed in the past year in Sullivan County Family Court.”   By way of explanation,  the NAACP stated, “We believe that current efforts on the part of an overworked and understaffed CPS staff are simply not sufficient. The protections we expect and deserve for our children and families have been short-circuited by what can only be described as a cavalier and disengaged DFS Legal Department. In short, more than ever, our most at-risk children are at even greater risk…. Based on what we have seen to date of Commissioner Parker’s leadership, we are very concerned it appears that Mr. Parker’s aggressive behavior and reckless policies will go unchecked without the benefit of Dr. Sager’s sound reasoning as part of the management team at the Department of Family Services.”

When YNN’s Eva McKend asked Commissioner Parker for his response after the Health & Family Services Committee meeting, he said,  “No comment.”  However, later in the day — and for (again)  unexplained reasons —  Parker provided an interview  to The Times-Herald Record in which he accused Dr. Sager of  being a political appointee who’d been forced down Parker’s throat and who was incompetent to perform his duties.  Characteristically, the interview provided no explanation for why it took Parker seven months to fire his  “inexperienced”  Deputy,  why he praised Sager’s work in at least one staff meeting and why the Commissioner spoke with Sager about expanding the Deputy’s sphere of  responsibility.

For his part,  Dr. Sager wrote at his Facebook page on May 23, 2013,

“I performed my duties as Deputy Commissioner of the Sullivan County Department of Family Services competently and professionally. Because Commissioner Parker has offered no reason to me or anyone else for my abrupt termination, I can only conclude I was let go as an act of retaliation for expressing to Mr. Parker my serious concerns about both past and present failures on the part of DFS relating to individual cases and the inability of certain employees to conduct their work competently and in accordance with the law. DFS employees in my office have come forward to say I was a caring, productive, and hard-working colleague. Though Commissioner Parker and I occasionally disagreed on a course of action privately, I was always a supportive and deferential deputy. Recently Mr. Parker praised my work at a departmental meeting in front of the entire staff. In fact, leading up to the day of my firing, he and I were seriously discussing adding additional responsibilities to my portfolio.”

Ignorance seems to be the Defense of the Day:  

  • Most Legislators claim that when Commissioner Parker came to the Executive Committee meeting on May 16, 2013,  they had no clue he was planning to fire Dr. Sager the next day.  (Although, when asked directly by Ellen Neumann on June 6th,  Jonathan Rouis remained mum.)
  • Several Legislators who attended the Executive Committee meeting reported  that, “Parker asked if we would support his actions as Commissioner.”  Some  have even expressed  “outrage” that neither Parker nor Yasgur clued them in about the termination letter.  One Legislator told me that when Parker was asked  why he wanted Legislators’ “support,”   the Commissioner provided no answer.  (BIP Note:  Are the Legislators “outraged”  that they didn’t ask more questions or that Parker refused to answer the few they did ask?  Or, as some of the Legislators have wondered,  “Why didn’t our County Attorney tell us he’d  drafted a termination letter for Parker to use?”  (FYI:  Attorney Yasgur is an “at-will employee”  who serves at the pleasure of the Sullivan County Legislature.1)
  • At the Labor Sub-committee meeting on May 21st,  Legislator Kitty Vetter declared that she’d never heard there were “problems at DFS.”  Sandy Shaddock begged to differ and went on to  enumerate several instances when  she had personally reported  her own and employees’ concerns about DFS.
  • After the June 6th  Health & Family Services Committee meeting, County Attorney, Sam Yasgur told me that he’d  “drafted” Sager’s termination letter  for Commissioner Parker but didn’t inform the Legislators.  “In large part,” he said, “my job is to protect them [the Legislators].”
  • County Attorney Yasgur  offered to provide me with  a copy of the County’s “Whistleblower Policy” but when we went to his office to retrieve it, he couldn’t find it.
  • When I asked  him about the rumor that the County has an “exit interview” policy,  he explained it was used for  employees who leave County service of their own volition.  I explained he was in a position to offer a different policy for the Legislators to consider.  (He shrugged but couldn’t find a copy of the exit interview form, either.)
  • Despite contrary  information  provided by this writer on at least two occasions, Legislator Cindy Geiger continued to assert on June 6th that “at-will employees”  can be terminated without recourse.   “There’s nothing in County law to protect them,”  she added.   (When she was informed that the  protections exist in Federal and State law,  Mrs. Geiger had no response.)

On Wednesday June 12, 2013,  Dr. David Sager and  his attorney, Michael H. Sussman,  appeared at a press conference to announce David’s  plan for the immediate future:

  • A Summons and Complaint  has been filed on behalf of Dr. David Sager against the County of Sullivan, NY.  (The full document can be viewed at The Sullivan County Democrat’s  Facebook page  or a print copy can be obtained from the Sullivan County Clerk’s office at the Government Center,  300 North Street,  Monticello, NY.)
  • Citing to  Section 75B of New York State’s Civil Service Law,1  the Summons and Complaint alleges the following:
    •  “…Parker has claimed that plaintiff lacked the experience to discharge the duties and responsibilities assigned to him.”;
    • “This reason is  sheer pretext in that in the weeks before terminating plaintiff and  before plaintiff’s disclosures, Parker stated that he intended to expand plaintiff’s duties and responsibilities and at the most recent full staff meeting held in April 2013, Parker praised plaintiff’s job performance.”;
    • “In fact, defendant terminated plaintiff because he was reporting fraud and illegal activities which were transpiring within the Department of Family Services, specifically on the part of legal staff, CPS staff and  temporary assistance staff.”;
    • “ Commissioner Parker  engaged in illegal activity when he terminated Dr. David Sager.”;
    • “…plaintiff reported that a serious case of sexual abuse known to [Child Protective Services] CPS staff had not been, and then was not being, properly or timely investigated
    • “…that neglect and incompetence on the part of DSS’  legal staff was causing the failure to conduct a timely and proper investigation.”;
    • “Plaintiff made clear that he believed that CPS’ failure to timely investigate this serious claim of sexual abuse constituted an improper governmental action, was contrary to departmental rules and regulations which required the prompt and thorough investigation of such matters and imperiled the health/safety of the child adversely affected by such conduct.”;
    • “While Parker privately agreed with plaintiff that DSS’ legal staff was not competently performing their functions, he took no remedial action.”;
    • “Indeed, Parker’s political association with one of the DSS counsel caused him to wish to conceal the evidence plaintiff had revealed of her incompetence and professional misconduct and, instead, animated him to terminate plaintiff.”;  (Underscoring added for emphasis.)
    • “But for plaintiff’s disclosure of the incompetence and professional misconduct of this agency attorney and her engagement in improper governmental action, Parker, acting on behalf of the County of Sullivan, would not have dismissed  the plaintiff.”

(The salient portion of  the law cited  by Attorney Sussman  can be read here.)

According to Sussman’s statement at the  June 12th press conference,  “…dereliction of duty and  the improper handling of  long-standing cases  by DSS employees resulted in the endangerment of children.  When David raised the questions to Dr. Parker,  he was doing what he was responsible to do.  Parker’s  adverse action was illegal.”

Mr. Sussman also commented on rumors that  “documents and files are being shredded and destroyed” at the Department of Family Services.  “We have heard the rumors but I have not yet substantiated them.”  However,  he called on DFS employees to “not be a party to any destruction  of files.  If you are being directed to destroy ‘stale files,’  document the direction you were given and  the person who gave you the direction.  Report it.  Those  ‘stale files’  are now evidence.”


(BIP Note 1)   For those who’ve asked, “Who’s OZ?  Who would have had the power to pull Commissioner Parker’s strings,” I offer this information from the Sullivan County Government website::

  • The person in charge of prosecuting DFS cases is Colleen Cunningham;
  • At the link to the SC website, Attorney Cunningham describes, in part,  her duties and responsibilities, “The Legal Department represents the Department of Family Services in legal matters before County, Family, Justice and Supreme Courts.”

Additionally,  Ms. Cunningham  is the sister of Chris Cunningham who was a Legislator and former- Commissioner of Health & Family Services.


(BIP Note 2)  Comments are being written at The Sullivan Post Facebook page by individuals who claim to have worked with or knew Randy Parker in Richland  County,  Ohio prior to his employment by Sullivan County, NY.  One comment reads,

“You need to check into Richland County Children Services in Mansfield, Ohio. The people of Richland Country tried to warn you about Randy. I believe there are still lawsuits pending against him and he had contempt charges and other legal issues as well. His contract was terminated and he walked away with pay. There was a tremendous amount of turnover while he was the director. The man surrounded himself with lawyers. He is despised here. It wouldn’t take much to find out about his reign of terror. Good luck ridding yourselves of that mongrel.”

A retired peace officer says,

“his reign of terror is just beginning! HISTORY is a good reflection of what the future holds. Whoever did his background check should be checked for dereliction.”  And “ I cringe at the number of “awesome” social workers that i worked with that were made to leave “DISGRUNTLED”. we could tell success stories of providing safety and protection for children. all the good things these workers did without any support from the agency they represented. several times i recall these workers coming in to my office and crying over the things we had to deal with and see, let alone not having any support from their “leader”. Social workers see atrocities involving children every day and to not support them in their jobs is absolutely disgusting.”

Although many other comments have been left by Richland County folks,  BIP’s last offering is this one:

 “I can’t believe that the Sullivan County officials hired Randy Parker if they did any research at all on his background. All you have to do is google his name and you will be amazed! He created an extremely hostile work environment in Richland County, OH. Mr. Parker would belittle employees, use fowl language, cussed at employees in front of their peers, at meetings, etc. Not only did he not get along with employees, he had major problems with other agency leaders, including the Juvenile Court Judge. He has several law suits pending with folks in Richland County. All I can say, is I feel very sorry for the folks that are currently working under him. Shame on you Sullivan County officials, if you continue to allow your employees to endure abusive behavior by this man.”


1 Duties of the Sullivan  County Attorney:

 [Amended 1-23-2003 by L.L. No. 3-2003; 4-26-2007 by L.L. No. 2-2007]

There shall be a County Attorney who shall be appointed and qualified, and restricted, and have the powers as set forth in §§ C4.00, C4.01 and C4.02 of the Charter of Sullivan County. When the interests of the County Legislature, the County and/or the County Manager are inconsistent with the interests of a County officer or employee, the County Attorney shall represent the County, the County Legislature or the County Manager, as the case may be. When the interests of the County and/or the County Legislature are in conflict with the County Manager, the County Attorney shall represent the County or the County Legislature, as the case may be. The County Attorney works through the Management and Budget and Personnel Committees in budget and personnel matters respectively.

2 In part, Section 75B of New York State’s Civil Service Law states:

  2.  (a) A public employer shall not dismiss or take other disciplinary
  or other adverse personnel action against a  public  employee  regarding
  the   employee's   employment   because  the  employee  discloses  to  a
  governmental body information: (i) regarding a violation of a law,  rule
  or  regulation  which  violation  creates and presents a substantial and
  specific danger to the public  health  or  safety;  or  (ii)  which  the
  employee   reasonably  believes  to  be  true  and  reasonably  believes
  constitutes an  improper  governmental  action.  "Improper  governmental
  action"  shall  mean  any action by a public employer or employee, or an
  agent  of  such  employer  or  employee,  which  is  undertaken  in  the
  performance  of such agent's official duties, whether or not such action
  is within the scope of his employment, and which is in violation of  any
  federal, state or local law, rule or regulation.

Birthdays : Turning, Marking and Saving Pages

(My  house’s grey water outlet has been frozen for several days so this birthday morning,  as I ran a smidge of water for my coffee,  I stared  at the pans catching the overflow from the  dishwasher.   Some part  of  the day’s celebration  would include  ladling water into a bucket and dumping it outside.  I looked at the clock.  Dumping would have to wait  till  after work.

Outside the kitchen window, an  expanse of white and brambles disappears  into the woods behind the house.  A lace coverlet dotted with tracks.  Hints of  nocturnal secrets.  What a perfect day to just…

Turn on the faucet.  Open the basement door.  Listen for leaks.  Eye the  water  in the catch-pans and check under the sink.

Oh Dear Fates,  the drain thawed in the middle of the night!   And within a half hour of that sweet gift,  my day’s employment was canceled.   Financially sound or no,  I’ve been handed a whole day to labor and laze  as I please.  And if that isn’t gift  enough,  my son has pledged  to wash  the pile of pots, pans and dishes  that grew  like a new continent  in just a few frozen days.)


Staring at my naked self in the mirror is a  once a year odyssey.  My head turns side to side.  Surprised.  Quizzical.  Wry.  “Where?   How?  When?”   Ineluctably, the mind’s eye launches a survey  of  changes, causes and effects:

  • Sags and bags
    • Children,  always beside me.  Kind, robust  men and a sweet,  rollicking woman.
    • Work.  Hard. Laborious. Satisfying.  And  save for the sounds of stone on stone,  steel on wood, flesh and bone,  often silent.
    • Love.  Hard. Laborious. A balloon  capable of  heady inflations,  aimless drifts,  hissing collapses  and soul-rocking explosions
    • Losses and gains
  • Wrinkles and creases.
    • (See  “Sags and bags”)
    • Sun, glorious & punishing
    • A Cornucopia of  Indulgences
    • Oceans, deserts, rivers,  mountains, cities and farms
    • Vegetables,  dirt  and skin dyed by fresh-picked fruit and the hungry I’ve known
    • Sawdust, diapers, worry, love, anger and  fear.  The stuff of life.
    • Laughter.  Uproarious, unbidden.
    • The melting away of the fat that pads our dermis and longings.

No matter how surprising  is the image I see each year,  my shoulders shrug of their own volition and both thumbs  “go way up”  in salutation.  “All mine,”  I chortle  involuntarily.

But wait.   If birthday wishes  require no special effort,  then perhaps  a tad less or more here or there?  A  tuck of the temper?  A  nip of the tongue?  Cosmetics,  darlin’s.  Flimflam.  The real reason for my special  fireworks is:

  • This is the day on which all my progeny depend.  (True, Narcissus, of  nearly all the flora and fauna  in  the  world.  Get over yourself.)

Hmmm.  Then,

  • This is the day  that changed my little part of the world.  (Puh-leeze!  A speck in time and space.  A busy little speck; but a speck nonetheless.)


  • Without this day,  the rest of my life would be moot.

Or, as my mother liked  to say,  “If my legs were longer, I’d be taller.”

But the time has come to turn from the reflection.  No matter how enthralling the navel may be,  its revelations can be circular.

On this day, I might:

  • Take a walk along the river.  To preserve my sense of time and place.  To rescue my sense of humor.  (A four hundred million year old river —  that’s eight zeros while most of us settle for  one  — and a primordial ice floe  inching  past  my very eyes); or
  • Take a cigarette break on the front porch in my pajamas and with one eye closed, squint through the trees till I see the  slivers of ice and water below;
  • Eat a healthy, grainy  breakfast to celebrate the bounties of life and the gifts bestowed on me;  or
  • Fill a big bowl with  the “Columbian Coffee” and “Rocky Road”  ice creams I bought myself yesterday;
  • Edit and structure this ditty of a column; or
  • Fling it into the ethernet without  fuss and fumes;
  • Read hundreds of emails from a zillion worthy causes;  or
  • Settle in with “The Gods Must Be Crazy” and  “Harry Potter.”
  • Get to work on a freebie website promised to a not-for-profit; or
  • Be astonished by the abundance of  people, places, events and things  that have twirled and stomped through my doors these fifty eight years.  And,  like any other day,  pray my grip holds when the ride starts to spin.

To all the well-wishers and well-beloveds in my  lucky life,  many, many thanks.

WJFF’s Management : Policies, Procedures Questioned

More than a year ago,  I published Breathing’s  first article about a storm brewing at our local public  radio station, WJFF. Since then,  mostly inchoate  rumblings of discontent have leaked  from behind the station’s doors.  The rumblings became decidedly more focused,  however  when WJFF’s  Programming Committee released its proposed changes to the current weekend program schedule.  According to one volunteer,  “…it’s relevant to know that the shows that moved to prime or repeat time slots are all shows  —  exception of one — hosted by Board of Trustees [BOT]  members, spouses of BOT members, PC  [Programming Committee] members or station staff.  This schedule was sent to the [WJFF Volunteer]  listserv as a “done deal,” then came an outcry [and]  PC chairman Brinton said there would be a comment period and the schedule is [now] on hold.”

(January 18th,    Breathing  emailed  Mr. Clark and Mr. Van Benschoten a list of questions and requests, appended at the end of this column.  As of   January 20th, I’ve had no response.  However,  included below  is a forwarded email  I received this evening from the Programming Committee.  It outlines their plan for proceeding.)


Following the Programming Committee’s (PC) release of its proposed new weekend schedule for WJFF,  some of  the station’s volunteers began organizing in earnest.  Among them are those who believe the new schedule was created  to reward “management-friendly” volunteers and to punish those who’ve spoken against management practices.  At the January 17, 2011 Programming Committee meeting,  John Webber displayed graphics which substantiated volunteers’ worries that the Programming Committee used a system of rewards and reprisals to create the new weekend lineup.   Indeed,  when Mr. Webber and other volunteers compared the proposed schedule to the current one,   one volunteer whose program was shortened and moved to a later slot  stated,  “Your graphic’s clear and represents questionable relationships between management and volunteers.”

Volunteer  Jason Dole  asked,  “Why change the programming?”  and other members of the audience echoed him,  “On the basis of what data,  what survey results,  what information did you decide changes should be made?  And what those  changes should be?”

Brinton Baker,  Chair of the PC attempted to clarify his committee’s thinking and procedures,  “We decided to be proactive  and start with the weekend schedule.  We attended some webinars and believed we could improve our lineup.  The webinars with Ginny Berson of  the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB)  underscored three guiding principles:  (1)  the business of public radio is programming; (2)  programming exists to serve the community;  and (3)  programming creates audiences and audience size begins with programming choices.”

PC member Julia Greenberg added,  “The schedule has to be dynamic which means no single  on-air volunteer owns a time slot. Generally, a consensus was reached that  the weekend programming could be better, more dynamic.”

“But,”  asked several audience members,  “how did you decide which shows would be lengthened, which shortened,  which moved to different time slots and which  canceled altogether?”

“We sent out 200 surveys,”  said  Chairperson Baker,  “and received back 100.”

“Who received the surveys?”  asked the audience.

Baker replied,  “We sent surveys to WJFF members who’d donated to the station at least twenty times.”

When the audience was polled,  at least half raised their hands to indicate they’d donated the requisite twenty  times.  Of that number, however,  only three people actually received the survey.   Two  –– of whom one   is a member of WJFF’s Board of Trustees — represented a single household. The third recipient,  Martin Springetti,  is  a new member of  the station’s Community Advisory Board (CAB). As Mr. Springetti  looked around the room,  he  said, “I wish we would survey anyone who’s donated  forty dollars or more.”

A need for clarification was on Padma Dyvine’s mind.  After studying the proposed changes, she said, “It sounds like you’re making  changes to the schedule for the sake of making changes and because you think some volunteers have had shows too long.  On what basis did you decide?”

Although no coherent answer  was forthcoming from the PC members,  Mr. Webber,  who’d compiled the comparative graphics of the old schedule and the proposed changes,  said,  “It looks like favoritism.”

Programming Committee member,  Julia Greenberg,  responded,  “We can’t ignore John’s statistics.  Some structural changes are needed.   We must address potential conflict issues   between on-air volunteers and our committee.”

“How much  influence did the station’s management wield in the process?” asked long-time volunteer and station supporter,  Jonathan Mernit.

“It was a group process,”  responded  Mr. Baker.  “I chaired the meetings and led the discussions.   [Station Manager] Winston Clark and [President of the Board of Trustees (BOT)],  Steve Van Benschoten were present.  And we were aware of the survey results.”

Although there was a general hue and cry that   Community Voices,  Classics for Voice and the station’s  monthly  Open Houseall locally-produced shows —  were missing from the proposed schedule, according  to statements by audience members and letters received from the community-at-large,  the two most contentious changes involved moving   Angela Page’s “Folk Plus” and Jesse Ballew’s  “Jambalaya” from their earlier slots on Saturdays to later and shorter  Sunday times.  Despite their recognition of  Ms. Page’s  stature in the world of Folk music, several representatives of  the entertainment industry expressed worry that the  changes would harm both the shows and their businesses. They referenced  the fact that  Angela and Jesse frequently shine spotlights on musicians scheduled to play  locally.  They believe  a Sunday spotlight  wouldn’t help  our local Saturday evening music  scene.   “Plus,”  said Ms. Page,  “I was told all shows would be reduced to one hour.  That’s not what you’re proposing in the new schedule.  Even though you did cut Folk Plus by fifty percent.”

Leaving the controversy  surrounding her own program behind, Ms. Page stated the PC’s process was deeply flawed.   In a seeming endorsement of  Maureen Neville’s comment that,  “This is a public radio station.  You’ve made the most programming changes in twenty years and the public wasn’t even informed,”  Ms.  Page offered her own concerns about the station’s decision-making  processes:

    • The public is not properly informed of meetings and upcoming policy changes.  “I asked three times that a Public Service Announcement be made about this meeting and there was none!”
    • “Ginny Berson said in her Webinar  that stations,  ‘Must know their target audience.  Must find out who’s listening,’  but your research was poor  and you still haven’t identified a target audience.  You still don’t  know who’s listening.  I gave you  great research sites and you didn’t follow through.”

When Breathing Is Political asked for a list of media where WJFF meetings are advertised,  I was told,  “On-air at WJFF and on our website.”   In September 2010 and again at the January 17, 2011 PC meeting,  Breathing and others suggested  that meeting notices   be sent to all local media.   Chairperson Baker admitted he was at a loss as to how to distribute such notices and Ms.  Greenberg said,  “We’re media!  We can do it!”  (Public Service Announcements  are free and can be submitted online.  ( WJFF Bylaws)

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting  — which  provides much-needed funding to our  small station —  has addressed the gnarly issue of Open Meetings by citing to  Section 396(k)(4) of the Federal Communications Act:

“Funds may not be distributed pursuant to this subsection to the Public Broadcasting Service or National Public Radio (or any successor organization), or to the licensee or permittee of any public broadcast station, unless the governing body of any such organization, any committee of such governing body, or any advisory body of any such organization, holds open meetings preceded by reasonable notice to the public.

In its summary of  what “reasonable compliance” entails, the CPB  requires that the public be apprised of meeting particulars  “at least one week (7 days) in advance of the scheduled date of an open meeting”   and  further  requires that:

1. Notice is placed in the “Legal Notices” or the radio and television schedules section of a local newspaper in general circulation in the station’s coverage area; or, notice is available through a recorded announcement that is accessible on the station’s phone system; or, notice is available through an announcement that is accessible on the station’s Web page; and

2. Notice is communicated by letter, e-mail, fax, phone, or in person to any individuals who have specifically requested to be notified; and

3. The station makes on-air announcements on at least three consecutive days once during each calendar quarter that explain the station’s open meeting policy and provide information about how the public can obtain information regarding specific dates, times, and locations.

According to the CPB,  the rules governing public notice  and access  pertain to all manner of  public meetings whether they be telephonic, via the internet or in-person:  “However, these alternative meeting formats must still meet the other statutory requirements such as providing reasonable notice and allowing the public to attend, which in the case of an alternative meeting format would mean the ability to listen, observe, or participate.”

In a prepared statement, Martin Springetti,  a new member of the Community Advisory Board (CAB),  addressed what some  of WJFF’s volunteers have come to believe is the silencing of the  Advisory Board.  (“Winston”  refers to  Winston Clark,  WJFF’s Station Manager and   “Steve refers to  Steve Van Benschoten,  President of WJFF’s governing body, the  Board of Trustees) :

“One of the great strengths of WJFF is our live locally produced programming. Midmorning on Saturday is prime listening time for many of our supporters. It makes sense to have live locally produced programming at that time rather than syndicated programs that are readily available on other public radio stations.

I am a current member of the all new Community Advisory Board. Last October 5th we had our first and only meeting. The agenda was set by Winston and Steve, the meeting was run by them. The proposed programming changes were never mentioned. I think the station missed a great opportunity to get input from the community before the changes were announced.

Last summer this survey was circulated among some select supporters. It reads: WJFF WEEKEND PROGRAMMING SURVEY.  This shows that programming changes were being considered way before the October CAB meeting. The Community Advisory Board has been left out of the loop. If you were to embrace and engage the CAB instead of trying to marginalize us, you might find that we could be a great asset to the station.

I joined the Community Advisory Board because I want to help and support our station, not to get into arguments about whether we are meeting minimum requirements of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

My question is: Why was the Community Advisory Board not asked for input or in anyway involved in the proposed programming changes?

Although the Programming Committee  said it “regretted”   its exclusion of the CAB from its programming deliberations,  according to  Article IV   of the WJFF Bylaws:

1. The Community Advisory Board (CAB) will implement the requirements for a CAB set out in the relevant CPB  [Corporation for Public Broadcasting]  and FCC  [Federal Communications Commission]regulations. In particular, the primary purpose of the CAB is to advise the BoT [Board of Trustees] on how the corporation serves the educational and cultural needs of its coverage area.

3. The CAB consists of members representing, as far as possible, the diverse needs and interests of the communities served.

And also according to WJFF’s By-Laws (Article V, p. 10),

The [Program]  Committee’s responsibilities include all matters relating to on-air and online programming, including maintaining the quality of existing shows; assessing and overseeing the development of on-air skills of volunteers; assessing and approving new  shows (local and syndicated); scheduling programs; and identifying areas where programming needs strengthening and working to fulfil these needs.

A logical inference can be drawn from the By-Laws  that  the Board of Trustees is  dependent on the Community Advisory Board for advice in meeting  “the educational and cultural needs of its coverage area.”   Equally,  the  PC requires the Advisory Board’s  input  when  “identifying areas where programming needs strengthening and working to fulfil these needs.”

But what  does  the Corporation for Public Broadcasting  (CPB) say concerning the presence, importance and function of  a CAB?   CPB  has listed its compliance standards for public radio stations to follow and warned that CPB  “may not distribute any of its funds to any community-licensed public broadcasting station that does not have an advisory board which meets the requirements of the law.”

In essence, the CPB requires each  public radio station to establish a “community advisory board  that will:

    • be independent of the radio station’s  governing body“;
    • meet at regular intervals;
    • “be reasonably representative of the diverse needs and interests of the communities served by the station;
    • establish and follow its own schedule and agenda, within the scope of the community advisory board’s statutory or delegated authority;
    • review the programming goals established by the station;
    • review the community service provided by the stations;
    • review the impact on the community of the significant policy decisions rendered by the station;  and
    • advise the governing board of the station whether the programming and other significant policies of the station are meeting the specialized educational and cultural needs of the communities served by the station.   The advisory board may make recommendations to the governing board to meet those specialized needs.”

When a couple of audience members supported the PC’s request that  comments  be restricted  to issues of programming,  Barbara Gref addressed the PC,  “Since the CAB was not part of your deliberations,  I suggest you put any decision on hold till you’ve had a chance to meet with the CAB and make sure the CAB is involved.  I hear your regret that they weren’t included but I’d like to see you make it happen.”

When another audience member  said,  “The CAB needs to take responsibility, too,”  a former CAB member retorted,  “The CAB wasn’t even notified of proposed changes.  How could they ask for information they couldn’t possibly know about?”


Sonja Hedlund, host of Ballads and Banjos, told the Programming Committee,  “At the first meeting,  you asked if we had ideas for changes and I said then that two hours is too long for a show.  And I disagree with the advice you got from the Webinar.  I do my  program to organize this community!  I think  you  should be asking,  ‘What shows are we missing?’  instead of  sitting back  and waiting for someone to  come forward with ideas.  By reducing the two hour shows,  you can make more room for new programs.  More youth programs.  We’ve heard over and over again that we need more local news and it’s not on the schedule.”

An underwriter in the audience  said,  “I’m upset that hosts weren’t given the consideration they deserve.”  And an eighteen-year supporter of the station chimed in,  “The car I donated to the station?  I wouldn’t have done it if I’d known this was going on.  When I complained to someone  about things happening at the station  — I won’t mention the person’s name —   I was told,  ‘You’ll learn to love the changes.’  I  felt dismissed after eighteen years of donating!”


WJFF’s management,  on-air volunteers,  PC and CAB members (both former and current) are at odds over  some pretty hefty fundaments  of democracy:

    • The right to broach lawful opinions without fear of retaliation
    • A fair, open and inclusive decision-making process
    • A community’s participation in the workings of its public media
    • Equal access to programming opportunities by  the diverse communities within the station’s coverage area

But as the January 17th meeting wore on, I began to wonder about something not nearly so highfalutin’:  incompetence.

    • How is it that Programming Committee members weren’t aware that meetings must be properly announced?
    • How is it that the PC didn’t know how to distribute Public Service Announcements of their meetings?
    • How is it  that the PC didn’t know that the Advisory Board must be permitted to advise?
    • How is that the listener comment line was “dis-established?”
    • How is it that no coherent response was on offer when the PC was asked,  “Why did you inaugurate these  programming changes?  On what research did you base your decisions?”
    • How is that only three audience members at the January 17th meeting  received the bungled survey?
    • How is it  that neither the Board of Trustees nor the Programming Committee anticipated that their un-researched proposals  would cause a brouhaha? (Especially in light of  Committee Member  Greenberg’s  agreement  that  the schedule should be reviewed for  conflicts of interests?)
    • And how is it that neither the BoT nor the Programming Committee identified the station’s target audience before proposing program  changes?

There are reports  from current and former volunteers that an uneasy  —  some say hostile  — atmosphere is growing at the station.  Rumors abound of volunteers being told by management,  “You need the station more than we need you,”  and  “Don’t talk about our dirty laundry on the listserv.”  Many of our longest-serving volunteers have said in an open meeting that favoritism and retaliation were at the root of the new scheduling proposal.  There have been managerial decisions  that resulted in  apparent breaches of  law.  Is there  potential for  those actions  to  jeopardize the station’s CPB funding?  Only the CPB can say for certain,   but managerial decisions  vis a vis the  CPB-mandated CAB have raised serious questions of community representation and inclusiveness.

I’ve emailed  Steve Van Benschoten (President of the Board of Trustees) and   Station Manager, Winston Clark asking for,  among other things,   manuals used by  the station to train its volunteers and board members.  I’ve also asked how many volunteers and/or employees have left the station  in the past two years and in the previous five.   And of those who’ve left,  I’ve asked  how many complained about or cited  to  either   management or the atmosphere at the station.  I’ve also asked  who received the 200 surveys and how recipients were chosen.

My original article about WJFF provided some history of the station and a very partial record of  its troubles a year ago.   I talked about  the enormous  community effort that gave birth twenty-plus years ago to,  “The Best Little Radio Station by a Dam Site!”  Crucial to that endeavor  were community  leaders like Chuck and Andrea Henley-Heyn.  For me, the most surreal moment during the Programming Committee meeting came when Andrea suggested ideas for improving station structures and processes and the Chair of the Programming Committee asked her who she was.

Answer, Mr.  Baker:  “Andrea is the  volunteer who has continued over the years  since Maris’ passing  to create a loving home for her  Calendar at WJFF.  And according to your own  WJFF website, ‘…has been a member of WJFF since before it went on air…'”

And finally,  the on-air fund drives  aren’t fun anymore;  just a few well-scripted voices with all the juice squeezed out.  (Even as  controlling as WAMC’s Alan Shartock is rumored to be,  his fund drives are frequently  exercises in giddy chaos.)   Until this moment,  I haven’t  referred to an elephant in the room:  one of our most successful Station Managers,  Christine Ahern.  She and  fund drives were chocolate sauce on ice cream.  How many times did we listen, mouths agape  during a gaff-filled morning late in the fund drive?  And the laughter!  It was like listening to children play.   Nevertheless, I was often  reminded that she knew every inch and corner of the station and the rules that regulated it.  But more, she was a deft manager of people and knew not only the communities in WJFF’s coverage area but much of their history.  Under her ten years of leadership,  the station grew in range, volunteerism  and loyal listeners.  Perhaps she spoiled us.  She was on a mission to make WJFF and its community a watchword in Public Radio.   Perhaps it’s foolish to expect one person to do what Christine did.  Perhaps the fair thing would be to divide the position of Station Manager into its parts.

Perhaps We, The Public should be regular attendees at Board of Trustee and Committee meetings.

At the very least,  the sense of fun, family,  and service to the community-at-large must be restored.


Emailed to WJFF’s President of the Board of Trustees  and  its Station Manager:

Dear Steve,  Winston and John:

In preparing to publish an editorial about recent events at WJFF,  these questions sprang to mind:

1. How many volunteers and/or employees have left the station in the past 2 years?  Of those, how many complained about or cited to  either management or the atmosphere at the station?

2. How many volunteers and/or employees  left the station in the previous 5 years?  Of those,

how many complained about or cited to  either  management or the atmosphere at the station?

3. Does WJFF have a training manual for new volunteers?

4. Does WJFF have  a training manual for new board members?  (All and any of the boards)

5. What training is provided to new board members?

6. Does  training of new board members include FCC, CPB and station rules and regulations concerning the new members’  functions on the board?  Does it include information concerning Open Meeting legislation?

7.   Does WJFF maintain a  record of complaints made by volunteers against WJFF management.

8. Does WJFF maintain a record of  its  response to any such complaints by volunteers or employees.

9. Does WJFF have a written policy concerning the advertisement/announcement of its  public meetings?

10. When was the last time WJFF sent announcements of  its  public meetings to media venues other than WJFF?

11. On what bases were  the former members of the CAB not asked to continue their service to the station?

12. On what bases were the former  members of the CAB replaced by new members?

13. Who participated in the “disbanding” of the former CAB and its replacement by new members?

14. How was the public notified that a new CAB was being engendered?

15. Through what means was the public asked for its input in establishing the new CAB?

I plan to publish the editorial in the next few days and am asking you to make available:

digital copies of any such training manuals and your  volunteer training schedule.

a copy of the survey that was reportedly sent to members who’ve donated at least 20 times.

a record substantiating that 200 surveys were sent

substantiation that WJFF has a record of members who’ve donated 20 times.

WJFF’s policy on informing the public of upcoming & public meetings

As a member of your WJFF signal area,  I have lots of question concerning recent events at the station.  I am asking these questions in order to write as balanced an editorial as possible.   As always,  once  the editorial is published, I will send you the link and you will have every opportunity to comment or even write an opposing & unedited piece.

Thanks much,

Liz Bucar

Town of Delaware Board; Home Rule; Conflict of Interests; Public’s Right to Know

NY Court of Appeals case law interprets provisions of the ECL [Environmental Conservation Law] to conclude that a town’s zoning. ordinance does not “relate to the regulation” of the industry, as prohibited by subdivision 2 of S 23-0303 of the environmental conservation law, but rather serves to regulate the location, construction and use of buildings and land within the town, as delegated to local government by Article IX of the State Constitution.

Dear Readers,  After three weeks  without my laptop,  I’m  b-a-a-ck.  As always, I’ve provided Town of Delaware meeting notes according to  how the meeting unfolded.  Although  Town Clerk McBeath’s  notes are generally excellent (as was commented by an audience member this past meeting)  Breathing has the wherewithal to provide more context for a more  (hopefully!) complete understanding of the issues discussed.   If you’re a Reality TV fan,  come on down  to the Delaware Town Hall on the third Wednesday of each month at 7:00 PM. The meetings have been packed recently and…lively!   Despite the sometimes contentious nature of  discussions,  it’s  important to note how many fine people are contributing productively to the life of our Town.  Take especial note of  the grants being written and improvements being planned.


According to a spokesperson for Mr. James “Jimmy”  Hughson (Jeff Sanitation and J. Hughson Excavating companies),  New York State’s Department of  Environmental Conservation (NY-DEC) has informed the garbage hauler he must move his collection facility indoors as part of  a required upgrade.   The upgrade of  Mr. Hughson’s proposed  “private transfer station”  (located east of Jeffersonville on the  East Branch of the Callicoon Creek)  is being considered by the Town’s Planning Board as a Special Non-conforming Use under  the Town’s  ZoningLaw.  Mr. Hughson’s spokesperson said the proposal will provide more storage capacity, will not increase the amount of garbage accepted at the site and will  reduce the number of truck trips.    “Mr. Hughson will collect the trash and sort it at his facility.”

When Town Assessor, Linda Schwartz,  commented to Mr. Hughson that she didn’t understand why he  would undertake the project because it sounded as if   his costs would increase  due to the upgrade while his profits would decrease due to his hauled-tonnage remaining  the same,   Mr. Hughson shrugged.

Town Clerk, Tess McBeath,  who sits on the County’s  Solid Waste Task Force,  explained that the County has proposed simplifying management of the solid waste stream by instituting  “single stream recycling.”  (Instead of  individual  households separating plastics, glass, metals, etc.,  as is done currently,   a  “sorting” company would do the separating and also transport the recyclables out of state.)  “The County isn’t looking to put haulers  out of business,”  Ms. McBeath continued.  “…it’s  asked for  $6.5 million  to build a transfer station….”

In 2009, according to the Times Herald Record,  Mr. Hughson was charged by the DEC for illegal dumping at the site.  In 1988,  the DEC ordered Mr. Hughson to cap and close  a landfill (near the current site)  which was owned and operated by him.*

The Town Board unanimously agreed to write a letter of recommendation in favor of Mr. Hughson’s  proposal.

Local businessman, Robert DeCristofaro, reported  what he believes are several discrepancies in his sewer assessment and the Board agreed to review the Town’s  billing.

While making her Town Clerk’s report,  Ms. McBeath  said,  “Many older, disabled folks come into my office.  I’ve asked several times that the Town Highway Department install handicapped parking signs that it already has so  those folks don’t have to walk so far.”   She then asked the Town Board to help her get the additional signs erected.

Highway Superintendent William Eschenberg interrupted Ms. McBeath.  “You stop.  You just stop right now.  I don’t work for you. You don’t like me and I don’t like you. There’s a sign out there.  If  they can’t read one sign they won’t be able to read three.”

To which Ms. McBeath responded,  “You forget who pays your salary.  This isn’t about me; this isn’t personal,”  and asked several times to be permitted to continue with her report.

While the back-and-forth between the two Town officials continued for several minutes — and the Board sat mum —   audience members called for Mr. Eschenberg to allow the Clerk’s report to resume.  When a local resident said,  “I don’t understand what’s happening here,” and told Mr. Eschenberg he was “being rude,”  the Highway Superintendent replied,  “I know you don’t understand” and asked the audience member to go outside with him so the matter could be explained.

Finally,  Ms. McBeath said to Supervisor Scheutzow,  “I need direction, Jim,”  and  Mr. Scheutzow replied,  “I’ll deal with it.”

Ms. McBeath also reported that the Town collected $2,580 in building fees during the month of May 2010.  (According to data obtained by Breathing with a  Freedom of Information Request,  eight fewer permits have been issued to-date this year than during the same period in 2009.    However,  as of 6/18/10,  fees  have totaled, apparently,  $13,519  an approximate $6,000 increase over the first six months of 2009.)

Mr. Eschenberg asked for, and received,  permission to  put the Town’s heating oil purchase out to bid.

The Building Inspector,  Mr. Howard Fuchs,  was not in attendance and so no report was made.

Tax Assessor, Linda Schwartz, reported  the Town’s  equalization and assessment rates  have increased to 57%.  (That means   Town property holders  will be paying taxes on  57%  of their  property’s value — a larger percent than last year.)

As reported by  the Town’s  Grants Coordinator, Ms. Kara McElroy,  The Town has received six proposals for  its  sewer project and must decide by  June 30, 2010 who will receive the bid.  In addition,  the Town of Delaware and three other River Towns are applying for a share in  a Scenic Byway Grant which will total $25,000.

Mr. Michael Chojnicki  reported that the hamlets of Callicoon, Narrowsburg and Barryville have applied for a $750,000  Community Development Block Grant.  Each Hamlet  would receive $250,000 and Callicoon  would use the funds for lights,  parking lot re-pavement (in the Klimchok lot),  shoring up the retaining wall near the same location, improved parking in front of the movie theater,  sidewalks and nicer connections between Upper and Lower Main Streets.

The Town Board awarded a municipal trash removal contract to Thompson Sanitation but when audience member Jim Hughson pointed out that  Thompson’s bid was significantly higher than Sullivan First’s,  the Board unanimously  rescinded  its decision.  New bids will be accepted and subsequently opened on  July 21, 2010 at 6:55 PM.


Mr. Roy Tedoff  read an excerpt of NYS Assembly Bill  A10633 which states, in part,

“Currently, local government officials are confused  about whether  their  local  zoning  ordinances are preempted by state law and regulation in relation to the oil, gas, and solution mining industries.  NY Court of Appeals  case  law  interprets  provisions  of  the  ECL  [Environmental Conservation Law] to conclude  that  a town’s zoning. ordinance does not “relate to the regulation” of the industry, as prohibited by subdivision 2 of S 23-0303  of the  environmental  conservation  law, but rather serves to regulate the location, construction and use of buildings and land within the town, as delegated to local government by Article IX of the State Constitution. This legislation clarifies that current  local  zoning  law,  and  local zoning  laws  enacted  in  the  future, will dictate where oil, gas, and solution mining is a permissible use, even with a regulatory program  at the state level.”

Mr. Tedoff  then said,  “Since the Town Board can use its zoning power,  you should.  It’s a no-brainer….We  voters  have a right to know where the Town stands on the drilling issue.”

Mr. Tedoff then asked  members of the Town Board to reveal  any interest in drilling either they,  their associates or family members have.

Mr. Scheutzow replied,  “Whose business is it to know?  Next, you’ll want to know what my bank  statement is.”

(According to Section 808 and Section 811 of New York State’s General Municipal Law,  Mr. Scheutzow, council members  and other public officials in the Town of Delaware are subject to annual financial disclosure requirements.)  Also according to Section 808,  the Town can appoint a Board of Ethics to review possible ethics violations and  to be the repository of  Town officials’  financial disclosures.  Section 808,  also allows that  if such a Town Board of Ethics is not established,  the County Ethics Board can be appealed to for an opinion.  (Breathing has found no evidence that  the Town of Delaware  established a Board of Ethics but has asked for clarification with  a Freedom of Information request.)

Breathing has  already provided some information on  the issue of conflicts of interest and public officialsSection 809 of the General Municipal Law also requires disclosures by public officials and Section 812 details the information officials are required to disclose  (Financial Disclosure Form NYS GML).  In fact,  according to the Town of Delaware’s own  Code of Ethics,

The rules of ethical conduct of this Resolution as adopted, shall not conflict with, but shall be in addition to any prohibition of Article 18 of the General Municipal Law or any other general or special law relating to ethical conduct and interest in contracts of municipal officers and employees.

(e) Disclosure of interest in legislation. To the extent that he/she knows thereof, a member of the Town Board and any officer or employee of the Town of Delaware, whether paid or unpaid, who participates in the discussion or gives official opinion to the Town Board on any legislation before the town Board, shall publicly disclose on the official record the nature and extent of any direct or indirect financial or other private interest he/she has in such legislation.

(f) Investments in conflict with official duties. He/she shall not invest or hold any investment directly or indirectly in any financial, business, commercial or other private transaction, which creates a conflict with his official duties.

Section 5. Distribution of Code of Ethics. The Supervisor of the Town of Delaware shall cause a copy of this Code of Ethics to be distributed to every officer and employee of the Town within thirty (30) days after the effective date of this Resolution. Each officer and employee elected or appointed thereafter shall be furnished a copy before entering upon the duties of his/her office or employment.

Section 6. Penalties. In addition to any penalty contained in any other provision of law, any person who shall knowingly and intentionally violate any of the provisions of this code may be fined, suspended or removed from office or employment, as the case may be, in the manner provided by law.

(The Franklin County District Attorney has said about an ethics investigation in his  countyOur investigation has revealed several contracts, easements, lease option agreements, cooperation memoranda and other types of documents which disclose relationships existing between elected officials and certain third parties in Franklin County (as well as other elected officials in other Counties) which, when allegedly coupled with certain decision making and board action, may be in violation of General Municipal Law (GML) 805-a(1)(c) and (1)(d). If such violations have occurred, these public officials may also be in violation of Penal Law Section 195.00, Official Misconduct and/or Penal Law Section 200….”)In  response to Mr. Tedoff’s  request that the Town Board  adopt a resolution in support of  The Home Rule Bill ( NYS Assembly Bill  A10633),  Mr. Roeder said,  “Why would we support legislation that’s  a plan to burden the towns to do things they shouldn’t be involved with?”

As a matter of clarification,  Breathing offered,     “A10633 is  the so-called, ‘Home Rule”  bill.’   It’s an effort by our  Assemblymember, Aileen Gunther — and other co-sponsors —  to clarify what the Town’s zoning jurisdiction is and  to restore local control over  zoning districts to local governments.  You have the right to zone heavy industry out of  a ‘rural residential district.’  I’d think you’d want local control back.”

Mr. Scheutzow said,  “That’s your opinion.”

Breathing Is Political:  “Perhaps  you could ask your Town Attorney to  contact Assemblymember Gunther  who’s a co-sponsor of the Bill.  Perhaps she or a legal person in her office could  clarify the purpose of the Bill.”

Mr. Scheutzow:   “No matter how many times this Board tries to explain that we only have control over the roads,  some people just don’t get it.”

Breathing Is Political:   “Then perhaps you could ask the Town Attorney to reach out to the State Assembly because obviously,  members of the Assembly disagree with you about the Town’s zoning prerogatives.”

There was no response from the Town Board to the suggestion.  Nor did any members of the Board respond to Mr. Tedoff’s request that they disclose any interests in drilling.**


In a discussion outside the Town Hall after the meeting had ended,  Craig and Julie Sautner (Dimock residents and plaintiffs in a Federal lawsuit against Cabot Oil) spoke with  Mr. Noel Van Swol (Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association).  In response to  the Sautners’ continued assertions that  the hydraulic fracturing process  left their water  undrinkable and contaminated with methane, Mr. Van Swol stated,  “I’ve been told that methane occurs naturally in the water in Dimock and that’s why your water’s contaminated.”

Mr. Craig Sautner replied,  “That’s not true and we can prove it.  The chemical composition of naturally-occurring methane is very different than what’s released into the water by hydraulic fracturing.  And what we’ve got in our wells is not natural. We’ve got the lab tests to prove it.”

When Mr. Van Swol was asked,  “If  700 gas wells are drilled,  would it be acceptable to you if  five families’ water wells were contaminated,”  Mr. Van Swol replied, “Yes.  That would be acceptable.”

“And if your well was contaminated?”  he was asked in a follow-up,  “what would you do?”

“I’d take the company to court,”  he answered.

The Sautners explained to Breathing that at the time of   Robert Kennedy, Jr.’s visit to Dimock,  Cabot Oil was supplying the family with water in “buffalo tanks.”    After his visit and because it appeared to him that the “buffalo” water was contaminated,  the Sautners asked Cabot to provide them with clean well water.  For a while,  the company complied but has subsequently refused to continue the practice.  According to Mr. Sautner, if his family wants  Cabot to  replace the water  the company allegedly destroyed,  they’ll have to settle for the questionable  “buffalo”  brew.


*DISCLOSURE:  Liz Bucar was a member of   Citizens for a Clean Callicoon Creek which lobbied for closure of  Mr. Hughson’s  Landfill in 1988  because, in part,  the landfill was located in close proximity to the East Branch of the  Creek and  over an aquifer.

**Breathing was  informed recently by a confidential source that  Councilmember,  Harold Roeder — who is also Chair of the Upper Delaware Council — had admitted privately to having signed a gas lease.  In a follow-up phone call from Breathing, Mr. Roeder adamantly denied the allegation,  “That’s an absolute lie!” he said.  “I’ve never spoken with a gas person in my whole life.”

Sullivan County Legislator David Sager vs. “Goliath” John Bonacic?

Before   Sullivan County Legislator,  Dr. David Sager,  (District 1)  took the podium  at his press conference this afternoon,  he arranged a pair of yellow and blue campaign signs on either side of the podium.  The signs proclaimed,  “Sager  for State Senate. No nonsense. Honest Leadership.”

Literally, the  announcement may  change the face of  NYS Senate District 42.

Not only did Sager  announced his intention to  challenge long-time incumbent Republican John Bonacic, but   he will do it as a Democrat.

Sullivan County Democratic Chair, Steve Wilkinson,   introduced Dr. Sager and welcomed   Delaware County’s  Democratic  Chairwoman Cindy Lockrow-Schimmerling and various other Democratic Party notables.

“I’d like to address the large elephant in the room,”  Mr. Wilkinson began.  “David  is changing his  political affiliation from Republican to Democrat.  This is not an opportunistic change but a a philosophical change,”  Mr. Wilkinson  continued to loud applause.   “To borrow from Winston Churchill,  ‘There’s nothing  wrong with change as long as it’s in the right direction.’  Democrats wholeheartedly welcome David to the Democratic Party. For too long  the New York State Senate has been the log jam to realizing change in New York. It has been mired in its own personal politics.”

Obviously, it  was not just any elephant Mr. Wilkinson was talking about.  Dr. Sager has held his  Sullivan County Legislative seat as a Republican.  In order for him to face Bonacic as a Democrat  in a  General Election,  he must get the nod from the  Democratic Chairs of the four  counties  which  comprise District 42:  Sullivan,  Ulster, Delaware and  a piece of Orange.

Ulster  County Legislator, Susan Zimet  (D, District 10)  campaigned against John Bonacic in 2006.  Although her effort fell short by roughly 12,000 votes,  it was a strong showing against the then-16-year incumbent. (Bonacic first became a member of the New York State Assembly in  1990 and has served in the NYS Senate since 1998.)  Zimet’s  2006 campaign website is still  up and available for viewing here.

Dr. Sager’s opening remarks  perhaps signaled  the tone he hopes to strike during the upcoming campaign.  “During the course of my service on the Sullivan County Legislature,  I have been honest and passionate. I have not been afraid of issues that were unpopular or complex.  If you liked me as a Republican, you will like me even more as a Democrat.  I will contuinue to champion fair and just causes and it won’t  matter to me if an idea is Republican or Democratic as long as it’s a good idea.  After  years of consideration,  I have changed my party enrollment and  have done so in good conscience.   I still stand  for fiscally  responsible and accountable government but my social views have evolved and are more in concert with core Democratic Party values.”

Taking on some who have criticized him  for  verbal  gaffs,  Sager said,  smiling at  The Times-Herald Record’s reporter,   “I have a reputation for having a  salty tongue — per The Times-Herald Record.  I will continue to be candid and fight for what’s  right. I will put the people first. Our state government is broken…and our current State  Senator is a long-time part of the problem. Unfunded state mandates have crippled  local governments and placed the burden on local taxpayers.”

“State Senator Bonacic  advocates for unfettered gas drilling.  I want a society and  government that asks at what price do we support industrial development that is potentially lethal to us  all.    At what point do we say no to large corporations who put their profits  first?   Gas drilling must be safe, legal, economically beneficial to all and subject  to local controls. We must take a hard look at a comprehensive  Environmental Protection Agency  study of gas drilling.  We must  support the Englebright bill which will institute a drilling moratorium in New York State until 120 days after the EPA releases the results of its study.   It’s a simple, sensible bill.  We can  wait for the science. We have a responsibility to provide safe drinking water to our children and families…. Safe drinking water is a right not a privilege.  Senator Bonacic  has been misguided [about gas drilling] while  I have been demanding a rational approach.  There must be a return to  local control. ‘Drill,  baby,  drill’  is a slogan not a policy.”

At a recent County Legislature meeting, Dr. Sager said  that the drilling issue  should not pit  farmers against non-farmers.  “It’s not an agricultural issue.  It’s about the industrialization of New York.”

“We must ask,  ‘Will the growth we advocate be sustainable?  How will  New York State and  District 42 grow?’  The 42nd District is in the process of becoming an important economic link to New York City  —  an important link to  a  sustainable lifestyle —  industrially, personally and agriculturally.”

On other topics, Dr. Sager  reminded the audience,  “I have sponsored sweeping and meaningful ethics reform for Sullivan County and  I will be at the head of it in New York State.”

“I will champion property tax reform and will be joining  Sullivan County Treasurer, Ira Cohen,  in  continuing to  review  tax exempt policies.  Large tracts of land and living complexes end up off  the tax rolls.  People cannot continue to vacation in the 42nd district for free.”

“I will fight for our schools, teachers and students so students can afford the college education they need and I’m determined to ensure our region has  the  infrastructure it will need  to benefit small businesses.”

“I’m going to need your help.  We need people who passionately support our cause. We need volunteers who will go door-to-door.  Please contact us at: until we get our website up and running which will be very soon.”

After his prepared remarks, Breathing asked Dr.  Sager  what he had to  say about local drilling issues and ethics reform.

“The county is in the  process, because of  my fierce prodding, of completely re-doing  our ethics policy.   As to drilling, I have not taken an anti  approach but there has been a general and blind pursuit of drilling without a necessary analysis of the science.  DEC’s  [NYS Department of Environmental Conservation] employees have  said the draft Supplemental Generic Impact Study is seriously flawed and no local official should be questioning that statement.”

Dr. Sager was also asked  how changing his  political party affiliation will affect his status with the Sullivan County Legislature.   “I’ve got a great working relationship with Jonathan [Rouis] and Woody [Elwin Wood]. I intend to caucus as a Democrat.”

A member of the  public  asked,  “Are you going to support green technology that  will help us avoid dependence on  Middle East  oil?”  and Dr. Sager reiterated,  “I want to turn the 42nd District into an area that promotes green technology. It’s how we’re going to grow our area.”

When Breathing asked a Sager supporter about  the candidate’s “salty tongue” remark,  the long-time patient of   “Dr. Dave”  said,  “Does he step in it sometimes?  Yeah.  He’s a passionate guy.  He’s not always smooth but that’s why I like him.  He does his homework and doesn’t have a lot of patience for  political games.”

For information on the amounts of money  NYS Senator Bonacic has raised in the past,  comprehensive postings have been made available  FROM PROJECT VOTE SMART and FROM THE DAILY KOS. Dr. Sager should hold on to his hat because both sites have published campaign war chest  figures for the Senator  in the $700,000 range.

Standing Room Only: Delaware Town Board: 4-21-10

Last month, one member of the public attended  the Delaware Town Board meeting.  Last night,  attendance was standing room only.

Highway Superintendent Bill Eschenberg made an appeal to the public for patience  as he cited to reduced funding from both New York State and the federal government.  “Please remember we’re all in this together if you find yourselves driving over potholes this winter.  We’ve got no idea what will happen with our CHIPS funding.”

CHIPS is  the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program and according to page 76 of Governor Patterson’s  Budget Briefing Book for 2010-11, “…the Executive Budget maintains the State’s core Trust Fund investment in the highway and bridge program at 2009-10 levels and also preserves funding for local highway and bridge projects under the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) at prior-year levels.”   Those figures may change depending on action by the NYS Legislature.

Kara McElroy,  the Town’s Grants Coordinator,  reported,  “We met with the Rural Water Association (RWA) about our sewer plant problems and it looks as if there are several funding streams available to us for help.  We’ve had an application  with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)  for a long time so  the RWA met with us to suggest engineering directions we might pursue.”

Ms. McElroy also  reported that “the Town’s Community Development Grant application will be submitted this Friday and  our application for  Upper Delaware Council (UDC) funds will be sent tomorrow.”  (For more on these grants and the programs involved, please see  Breathing’s coverage of last month’s Town meeting.)

According to Ms. McElroy,  “We’ve been awarded a Category B Renaissance Grant for which the Town will be the lead agency.”  To help with the project, please email

Harold Roeder,  Chair of the UDC and  the Town of Delaware’s  representative to the Council,  also spoke to the  fiscal  theme  struck by  Superintendent Bill Eschenberg by explaining that the UDC has been operating under the auspices of the National Park Service (NPS) since its inception.  “The Council was established  to protect property  rights and to protect water  quality in the Delaware River Corridor.  We get funding  from the NPS but  the amount hasn’t changed for twenty years.  That lack of increase results in less grant monies for our member townships.”

According to the UDC website,  the Council helps ensure the responsible actions of property owners through its  “…commitment to local land use controls and voluntary actions by landowners to protect the resources on their own private property, as opposed to federal ownership of the land in the river corridor.”

Ms. Ginny Boyle reported on The Callicoon Creek Park’s  recent “Work Day” which was coordinated with student volunteers from The Delaware Valley Job Corps.  She also referenced the many summer  events being planned for  The Park which include  music and art festivals,  weekly farmers’ markets  and a  May 22nd Plant Swap.  (The Park Committee’s  website and blog  will be “going live” on  or about May 1st so stay tuned for news on that.  Until then,  see notes at the end of this article for specific events and dates.  Breathing was very pleased to participate in the “Work Day”  with the  kids from Job Corps and had a great morning!)

While thanking the Town for refurbishing the Park’s entryway,  Ms. Boyle asked if funds  could be made available to replace damaged fence railings.  Although Town funds are not available, Councilperson Matt Hofer said Hofer Log and Lumber would donate whatever materials might be needed.

Councilperson John Gain reported on his tour of many of the Town’s  flooding trouble spots with  representatives of the  New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT),  Soil and Water Conservation and Mr. Jim Hughson,  owner of a local excavating company.  Mr. Gain described problems with rubble  under  the SR 52 bridge near Dick’s Auto Sales where the brook is seriously narrowed and several problems with culvert pipes.  “NYSDOT needs to get a digger from West Virginia that’s used to clear   rubble from coal mines but there’s no way of knowing when that will happen.  We’re facing significant erosion issues and it looks like  the pipes will have to be replaced.”

Mr. Hughson’s company, Jeff Sanitation, was awarded  a contract for the Town Clean-up Day.  (Please call  the Town Hall  at 845-887-5250  for details of that program  and another which permits residents and businesses  to dispose of electronic equipment on two separate days.)

Town Clerk, Ms. Tess McBeath  outlined steps that still need to be taken before the Town can incorporate  Farmland Protection into its Comprehensive Plan.

“The Gas Drilling Resolution,” which was tabled without comment last month,  passed this month with the removal of  an item calling for  “Inspections done by locally trained and qualified inspectors.”   According to Supervisor James Scheutzow,  the Board received a petition signed by forty residents  in support of the Resolution.  Council members Cindy Herbert, Harold Roeder and John Gain voted yes  “with reservations”  while Matt Hofer voted no and James Scheutzow voted in favor.


Mr. Matt Murphy of  the Stewart-Murphy Funeral Home asked why  Howard Fuchs, the Town’s Building Inspector,   cited him for  violations of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) when many other Town of Delaware businesses listed by Mr. Murphy  do not provide handicap access as mandated by the law.  The Board promised to look into the matter, discuss it with Mr. Fuchs and get back to Mr. Murphy.

Mr. Roy Tedoff,  a landowner in the Town of Delaware,  described  NYS Assembly Bills 10490 and 10633.  “A10490 asks that a moratorium  be declared in NYS  until 120 days after  the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a report on  the impacts of  gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing on drinking water.   A10633 gives Towns the right to use zoning regulations to control where drilling can take place.   This Town Board should contact the Assembly and  state the Board’s approval of the proposals.”   Supervisor Scheutow said he didn’t know about the Bills but would look into them.

Although a resident in the Town of Fremont rather than Delaware, Mr. Noel Van Swol spoke at length several times.  He is  a leading public voice on the issue of gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing.   He was also a leading opponent of  the  National Park Service’s involvement  in the Delaware River Corridor twenty years ago when  he made the  argument that local people could police themselves and keep The River safe.  Now, he and Mr. Bill Graby of the Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association, are  committed to drilling and hydraulic fracturing as “the only thing that will save us economically.”

In response to Mr. Tedoff’s  request that the Town support Assembly Bills  10490 and 10633,  Mr. Van Swol said,  “Those Assembly bills would further delay  drilling in New York State.  Our landowner group represents 9,215.24 leased acres in Delaware Township.  That’s more than 14 square miles.  Our organization has  to oppose the Board supporting the Bills.  Local property owners have been the silent majority while environmentalists have promoted their  hidden agenda to stop the drilling.  We’ve heard tonight of dire [economic] times and the only solution is this vital new drilling industry. New York State Senator  John Bonacic has said that upstate NY is dead.  Only  drilling can give it a heartbeat.  Hydraulic fracturing  has  been around since the 1940s.   As Jack Danchak commented recently,  there have been more than one million  wells fracked in the US and not one  serious instance of  trouble.”

Mr. Danchak  is a local sportsman who writes a regular column on fishing and hunting for the Sullivan County Democrat.  Although  he’s right that “fracking” has been around since the 1940’s, the  new slick water, high pressure,  horizontal hydraulic fracturing  technology proposed for New York and pioneered in Texas in 2002,  has some  scientists and the Environmental Protection Agency worried.

Gas extraction companies had known for years about the immense gas reserves in the Marcellus and Barnett Shales, but  there was no  viable way to remove it.  According to a gas industry publication,  The Permian Basin Petroleum Association Magazine,    “…when Devon Energy Corporation acquired Mitchell Energy in 2002, it drilled down vertically to the Barnett Shale, turned the drill bit, and continued drilling horizontally…. The combination of the water fracs and horizontal drilling revolutionized the unconventional shale gas play.”

Reports of  accidents and contamination in Dimock, Pa.,   DISH, Tx., Pavillion, Wy.,  Fort Worth, Tx  and other areas,  contradict assertions  by Mr. Danchak and Mr. Van Swol  that  “not one serious instance of trouble” has been caused by the  technology. (Milanville resident, Josh Fox, has documented some of those occurrences in his award-winning film, “Gasland.”

Mr. Van Swol continued his speech with a reference to New York’s dairy farmers who are still being paid at 1970’s  milk prices  and asked,  “What’s worse?  Some gas wells or farmers  going out of business and subdividing their properties and the environment being polluted by septic systems?”

Many family  farmers in New York  have been forced out of the dairy business due to abysmally poor pricing supports and federal underwriting of  gigantic  “factory farms”; but  people concerned with the impacts of  gas drilling have responded to Mr. Van Swol’s question in public hearings  by stating  that the carcinogens found in hydraulic fracturing fluids are not found in septic systems.

Mr. Bill Graby said, “We property owners have been working with the gas companies for almost two years. We’ve developed lease agreements that protect everyone.”

Mr. Tedoff replied, “Please make those contracts public.  We’ve been hearing about all the protections you’ve gotten,  but  all we  have is your word for it.   Until you stop keeping your leases secret, it looks like you  want to get all the gas out,  make the money and leave the rest of us so we can’t drink the  water.  Lease protections wouldn’t be so important if the gas drilling companies were regulated under The Clean Water Act.

A new resident and professional baker,  Ms. Elizabeth Finnegan said, “I also want to encourage the Town to support the moratorium Bill.   Let the EPA do its job.  If our water, soil and animals aren’t safe,  it won’t matter what kind of money’s available for grants.”

Steve Lundgren, another Town of Delaware resident  said, “Drilling is not the only solution to our economic problems and two years is not too long to study it.  Not everyone will benefit from drilling.   I understand  the farmers’ plight but only a small number of  leaseholders  will benefit.”

“The  NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is  responsible for protecting us,”  said Mr. Van Swol.  “If you don’t trust the State…they haven’t found problems in New York.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued reports on DEC’s inspection and enforcement record which contest Mr. Van Swol’s assertion and recently, Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC)  Commissioner Grannis admitted at a conference that his agency,  which oversees gas extraction, is understaffed.

(In a comment at Breathing, Jennifer Canfield, a long-time local realtor addressed one piece of the prosperity issue at Breathing by providing a list of banks  “who will not fund leased properties, based upon environmental risk, as per information gained from a mortgage broker who is still looking further into the situation:

First Place Bank
Provident Funding
Wells Fargo (will know for sure in a few days)
First Liberty
Bank of America

“A few local lenders who underwrite their own are still lending, ”  Ms. Canfield continued.  “We are trying to also get a determination from the sources at Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and Ginnie Mae.”)

Additionally, FHA rules (Federal Housing Adminstration) state,   “No existing home may be located closer than  300 feet from an active or planned drilling site.  If an operating [gas] well is located in a single family subdivision, no new or proposed house may be built within 75 feet of the operating well.”

Another long-serving realtor, David Knudsen responded at his site, “When a property has a gas lease on it that permits use of the surface for drilling, a third party essentially has the rights to materially change the property. Environmental concerns notwithstanding, those material changes to the surface could affect the value of the property, possibly devaluing the asset that the bank has lent on. Likewise, appraisals become difficult. Any piece of real property comes with a ‘bundle of rights’ that comprise its value. A gas lease essentially severs one of those rights, gas extraction, from the real property, so it becomes difficult to determine the value of the property without that right to transfer with the real property. It makes valuation very complicated. And in this still-tight lending environment, most lenders don’t want to deal with anything complicated or with an unquantifiable risk.”

Mr. Paul Hindes, the Town of Delaware’s  representative to  the Multi-Municipal Gas Drilling Taskforce (MMTF),  explained the MMTF has been focused on creating Road Use Agreements the Taskforce hopes will provide asset protection in the event that gas drilling comes to its eight  member towns.  “We want all eight towns to have identical road use laws that take into consideration not only the weight of industrial trucks on our roads but also the weight of those trucks over a cumulative period of time.”

Bill Eschenberg,  the Town’s  Highway Superintendent,  said he didn’t see any  evidence of harm from gas drilling during his trip to  “Susquehanna”  where Dimock, Pennsylvania is located. “If trucks wreck roads, they won’t keep running over them.  They need to fix them for the benefit of their own equipment.”

In contrast,   after a trip to  Dimock during  this past winter,  Breathing reported, “Throughout  Dimock, signs of poverty are  clearly visible and  the state of  dirt roads traveled by heavy drilling trucks was impossible to ignore.  Ruts were so deep and continuous that   humps as high as 8-9″ threatened  the under carriages of low-riding vehicles and, in part,  may have prompted  the Mayor’s question in Callicoon… about the state of our  local roads.”  (Mayor Tillman’s description of the gas industry’s  economic and environmental impacts on his town of DISH, Texas is available here.)

In his final comment, Mr. Van Swol said,  “Don’t worry about  money for  DEC inspectors.  The New York State Legislature will give us whatever we need  due  to all the money  coming from drilling and a severance tax.”

Virginia Andkjar,  one of the Town’s  Assesor stated,  “Unfortunately, it looks like the severance tax  will  be just a pittance.”

According to pages 98-99 of  Governor Patterson’s Budget Briefing Book,  the severance tax amounts to 3% on some gas extraction companies,  won’t be levied  until 2011-12 and is predicted to garner only  $1 million in revenues.


CALLICOON CREEK PARK SCHEDULE (not including regularly-scheduled  Sunday Farmers’ Markets):

May 22 at 10:00 AM :  Plant Swap.  Email me at for details

July 10,  31 and August 21 or 28 (still in flux):  Under the Moon in Callicoon Concert Series.   Janet Burgan, coordinator. Keep your eyes and ears pealed for details!

July 17 : Art Fair.  For more information,  see Robin at  The Callicoon Wine Merchant

Passing Over : Things of Fear; Things of Celebration

Dear Readers:  Though  I  adhere to no recognized or  singular faith,  I do  love  stories.  Give me a well-written epic about  families, communities, struggle  and transformation, and I’ll soak it in rather than eat, sleep or bathe.  And spring — glorious, tricky,  laughing-up-its-sleeve-spring — is rife  with stories.  The  rituals and traditions of our spring  celebrations turn our hearts to hope,  sunshine, birth, awakenings and all the goodness that sheds the worn, tired and fearsome dark. For many of us, more than New Year’s, the Vernal Equinox signals the time when we re-examine our principles,  our desires and the investments of our energy.

Who can see the first  impertinent Crocus and not  raise arms in an expansive, giddy embrace?  Who, in that moment,  doesn’t hope to become a  more generous, celebratory human, reveling in the gifts of   Earth, Water,  Seeds and Life?

It seems to me this year, that  winter’s weight has been  harder to shift; and that this year, shifting it is more important than ever.  I am  more frazzled by  the things  that threaten — less swelled by  the things that green and warm.  I think I’m not alone and so,  because living in dread is enervating,  I offer this antidote in hopes that gloom  will pass over your heads and homes.


My  email inbox has been filled with reminders that a new season of   art shows,  library programs and pancake breakfasts is upon us.   Classes are sprouting  in the fine arts of herb-growing, veggie-planting and yoga- practicing.  From Pennsylvania  to Poughkeepsie,   grants were written during the winter and their seeds are flowering:  funds have been found for Honesdale’s  Music in the Park Festival and last evening  — despite the threat of snow — Callicoon’s own  Cafe Devine sponsored a cross-river gathering of small businesses.  The Town of Delaware is making plans for its clean-up and new Renaissance projects are gearing up  for sprucing up.  (Despite my own lackluster mood, I  clapped when I heard the Callicoon Creek Park folks are  meeting on March 31 at 5:00 PM to begin planning for the summer.  Hope to see you there!)

How can I grumble like  a curmudgeon when I can fill my summer belly with an astonishing array of  Willow Wisp Organic Farm fresh veggies from June 4th until November 20th?  (I have to shake my doldrums and sign up by  April 16th because,  even though I remain unconvinced about the wholesome value of veggies in my diet,  proprietors Greg Swartz and Tannis Kowalchuk  look very sturdy and I know they eat the stuff even through the winter.  Take a gander at the  family picture at their website.  Health oozes off these people!)

The Catskill Art SocietyThe DVAA (Savor the Arts!),  The Barryville Area Arts Association, The Nutshell Arts Center and all their member artists, filmmakers, potters, fiber artists and photographers are shaking out the winter kinks with a cornucopia of events that breathe life into our better selves.

And farm markets!  I cannot tell you how gladdened I am as the River flows past my window that the Callicoon Creek Park, Liberty’s Darbee Lane,  Jeffersonville’s  “West Village,”  Roscoe’s  field and tens of other locales will soon fill  with the luscious reds, greens, lavenders, purples and russets of  locally-grown food,  crusty breads and  my favorite, gooey confections.

Happily, my phone and inbox are also coming alive with offers of  yard work,  spring cleaning and other  work that will  pay my rent and help me enjoy our fecund River Basin.

Speaking of fecund (such a fertile, ripe word!)… Josh Fox (Gasland) will be interviewed tonight (3/26) at 8:30 pm  on Now on PBS. (If,  like myself, you’ve canceled your TV service,  check Now’s online videos to watch it at your convenience.)

If that isn’t enough to convince the outside world of the creative wealth born and bred in these here mountains and river valley, Opus Jazz  (edited by Zac Stuart-Pontier) is premiering on PBS’ Great Performances.

For those of you who have not heard about these two  Delaware River Basin filmmakers,   they  are OUR sons  who, thanks to  sweat, hard-work, and creative genius,  finally  met  this past January  when Gasland and  Catfish (edited by Zac) showed — to critical acclaim —  at The Sundance Film Festival.

One last quick note about the importance  of  our region’s  performers and artists:  Janet Burgan,  local  songwriter and performer, who has been sharing her voice and words  with us for years at one freebie benefit concert after another,  will be performing at a Cindy Sheehan appearance on April 9, 2010 at 7:00 PM in Endicott, NY.   The event,  “Words and Music for Peace” is sponsored by Tioga Peace & Justice and will be held at The  First United Methodist Church on  McKinley Ave. “Cindy will speak,  Janet  will sing, and Expressive Drumming will perform a song written just for this occasion.”


I know I’ve missed a ton of events, organizations, farmers and small businesses in this first Spring Humors article.  Unfortunately,  gas drilling is on our doorsteps.  It has already begun its taking;  and like all of us, I’ve had to make hard choices.  I’d much rather be  adding all our creative and life-affirming events to the CottageWorks Calendar, but  instead, am  learning and sharing all I can about what fracking will mean to  our community.  It’s  the dread  that darkens this spring  and in years to come, when my grandchildren ask,   “Where were you, Grandma,  when the Basin  resisted?”  I can only afford to give them one answer,  “Standing beside my community and  sitting at my computer.”

However,  I will  try to write a column like this at least once a month.  Please continue to send announcements about your  not-for-profit organizations and community-vested businesses and I will continue to  spotlight them in a “celebratory article.”

Best hopes of the River Basin on all our heads,


Callicoon-On-The-Delaware: One Morning

I grew up playing baseball, growing veggies with my grandmother  and riding horses  in Madison, Ohio.  It’s   a small village in the northeast corner of the state  that sits  five  miles from the shores of Lake Erie.  When I was in school, the Cuyahoga River caught fire  regularly  and  “Help me!  I’m dying,” was scrawled in graffiti letters on the side of a Lake Erie  pier.   Anyone who lived along its banks already knew the lake was in jeopardy.   The miles of fish carcasses strewn along the shore were clue enough.

Today, I live in a lovely, well-worn  home overlooking the banks of the Delaware River in the Hamlet of Callicoon, NY.  Whether I drink my morning coffee on my front  porch or at a bedroom window,  the gleam of the river is the first thing I see each day.

I’ve stood on the bridge that connects Pennslvania to New York and watched vacation trailers float  beneath me in a torrent of brown flood.  I’ve watched ice floes pile and pile so high  that I’ve never doubted our  tenancy  rests  in Nature’s hands.

But for  more than the River, I came home to Callicoon for the people and early morning walks down Main Street.

This morning’s first  stop was  The Delaware Valley Free Library,  built in 1913.   As I approached the door with my ever-late book returns,  Bernie, a friend from “the PA side,”  poked his head out  saying,  “Got a minute?  We have to talk.”  His dark  hair hangs well below his stocking cap  and his salt and pepper beard reminds me of my old hippie days.  He’s wandered through the Far East and Buddhist Temples and now, he works as hard as anyone I know to preserve and protect the river and its hamlets.   He wants to be sure we’re  ready for  this Saturday’s  forum on  Gas Drilling and Public Health that we’re helping to coordinate.  It will be held in  Callicoon’s  Delaware Youth Center this coming Saturday.

At the back of the Library is a public room with murder mysteries and computers where locals chat  as often as they read.  As we finalize our last minute plans for the forum,  the owner of Callicoon Van & Taxi Service wanders in with a big “Mornin’, all!”  and settles at one of the internet terminals.  A half hour or so later,  as I pay my fines and check out a selection of  Martha Grimes and Louise Penny mysteries,  an elder whose head almost reaches my shoulder breathes toward my ear,  “Oooo.  Martha Grimes!”   “Yup,”  I nod.  “Richard Jury’s  my one true love,”  and the conversation’s  off  and running until I remember I’ve got three  more stops at least.  She pats the cover of  a book  I’ve just returned.  “The winter’s too long these days,” she sighs, “and I need all the books I can get.”

Headed toward The I.O.U.,  my favorite store in the universe,  I remember I need stamps.  Yes, stamps.  I send birthday  cards that carry  fingerprints and smudged ink because anyone who’s struggled down a birth canal deserves more than misty electrons floating in an ethernet pipeline.

The main lobby of the post office is closed.   Bud,   a long-time resident who migrated up from NYC decades  ago,  shakes his head at me from the driver’s seat of his truck.  “And it’ll stay closed for a full 90 minutes,”  he says.

“Well wouldn’t  Mae Poley and Wilda Priebe have called that  heaven in the old days,”  I say.   (Mae and Wilda were North Branch’s  post mistresses when I first moved to  The Delaware River Basin.  They’d taken over  from their mother  when she retired  and Mae,  her husband Earl  and their daughter Amy still  live in the old building that houses the PO.  When  I was a young  single mom with a baby to raise, the sisters   made sure I had plenty of house cleaning and dairy farm  jobs to feed the little bugger.  Neither of them ever closed the post office for more than  half  an hour and even then,  we all knew where to find them.  More than once,  Mae fed me lunch at her kitchen table.  She thought it’d keep me quiet till she was ready to re-open the window.   I still remember the day Wilda admitted she knew fewer and fewer of the  “new folks”  who were buying the old, empty houses in North Branch.  The Poleys, Priebes  and so many others are  woven into my life here in  The Basin. I’ve  cared for their loved ones  in the Callicoon Hospital,   rattled rafters with them at Democratic Party meetings and cheered all our  kids from Tee Ball to graduation.

“I like your ‘Drilling Isn’t Safe’  button,”  Bud says and I invite him to  the forum on Saturday.  For an hour, we catch up on all the people we know in common  and where they are.

“Ya’ know Barbara and George Hahn?”  I ask.  “Sure!”  he says.  “We were  in school together.”   Barbara was an RN who flew over the original Woodstock Festival in a medical helicopter with Abby Hoffman.  Her husband, George,  had the Jeffersonville Veterinary for decades.  They spent a whole afternoon giving me the skinny on my Jeff postcards.  Although, truth be told, their memories weren’t always…synchronized, George’s  family  hearkened back to the days when our first settlers spent their first winters hunkered down in caves till their houses could be built.  (The old Hahn farmstead was where Apple Pond Farm is today in Callicoon Center.)  Barbara and George moved to Connecticut this winter to be nearer their  kids.  “They lit my days,”  I say, missing them all over again.

Bud says his  daughter  was laid off when the Neversink Public School closed its reading program to save money.  “Can’t  pass a math test if ya’ can’t read,”  he mutters.

My heart was set on a stop at the I.O.U. but I still needed  a few things at Peck’s and as ever, the morning was nearly gone.

Peck’s is more than just a village grocery.  For years, Art and Beth Peck worked day and night growing  their first Narrowsburg store  till  it  became another and another and another.  Just as Beth’s energy fed the  Narrowsburg Library,  the local arts alliance and theater and a small news sheet that eventually became The River Reporter, when they retired, the Pecks ensured their employees were vested in the small chain’s future.  But that’s not why Peck’s is  more than a grocery.  As my friend Marci says, “If I’ve got things to do at home, I don’t dare go to Peck’s.”  Even if you make it down the aisles at a run,  there’s the check out where neighbors share the news of the day.   Among others, this morning,   I ran into Fred Stabbert, III,  publisher  of The Democrat,  Callicoon’s hometown newspaper.   He was in college when I first worked for the paper that was handed down from his grandfather to his father and not so long ago, to him.    Anyone who moves  to Sullivan County  should make it a point to read The Democrat’s  “Down The Decades”  page.  It’s a wonderful compendium of  more than 100 years of Sullivan County  history  — from the “white knights who protected our women”  in, thankfully, bygone  days to our more modern times.  Those pages, in concert with  Quinlan’s History of Sullivan County are a must-read if you’re interested in the foundations of your new home.

Most days, I feel a terrible urgency about painting  a picture the outside world will see and cherish as much as I do.  Our River valley’s  wealth and health depend on each of us.  We are a generous people.  We care for each other — for our   elders  who return home alone after a hospitalization  because their children have left   in search of better jobs;  for our young people  who are learning the old arts from teachers like Bobbie Allees over at the Sullivan West Central School in Lake Huntington.

Our memories are long,  stretching  back to the days when our early families  lived in caves above Callicoon Center and North Branch.  Much of our strength derives from our open arms;  arms that have welcomed organic sustainable agriculture to replace the old dairies.  Fiber artists, novelists, poets  and even Hollywood actors have made  The Basin their home.   And just this winter,  our valley  sent two of our sons to The  Sundance Film Festival where Zac Stuart-Pontier won critical acclaim as an editor for “Catfish”  and Josh Fox’s  “Gasland”    brought home  Sundance’s Special Jury Prize for Documentaries.

Like Appalachia, Texas, Ohio and countless others  before us, our valley faces a threat from outside.

But with each new year,  our farmers, artists, teachers, librarians, nurses  —  old-timers  and newcomers —  carve  a new historic tablet.

Please come to the  Delaware Community Center  February 20th at 4:00 PM.   Learn what gas drilling may mean to the future of our valley.


(Postscript to yesterday’s article.   Bread bakers who read yesterday’s article will be unsurprised to learn that my pumpernickel  loaves  were reluctant to rise.  The yeast knows when the baker’s spoiling for a fight.  I suspect anger makes the air too heavy.)