Category Archives: Home On The Delaware River

HomeTown, RuralTown, RiverTown. Callicoon, NY

The Downside of Handmade for the Holidays


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.

 

Walk About Water: Callicoon, NY


(Many thanks to all who organized the Walk About Water community potluck in Callicoon.  It was a wonderful evening.   And especial thanks to Marci MacLean for offering her photos to Breathing.  This is what loving a place and taking joy in it looked like in our River town on April 18, 2011.)

The Walk About Water  website  announced,  “ON APRIL 17TH THROUGH 23,2011, five women will walk 90 miles from the Neversink Reservoir, NY to Salt Springs State Park, PA. We will carry a hand crafted “AMPHORA” of clean water taken from Buttermilk Falls in the Catskill Mountains to a place where water is endangered. WALK ABOUT WATER is a grassroots initiative to raise awareness of the sacredness of our water and our land. We will send this water around the world to other endangered lands, as a simple act of solidarity.”

On  Monday  April 18,   forty or so Upper Delaware River Basin residents met  at the Callicoon Youth Center pavilion for a community potluck dinner and to await the arrival of Bess PathChef Deanna and Chrys Countryman.  The three  Walk About Water women had trekked (see the map!)  from the Neversink River to the Delaware for 10 heartfelt reasons:

1. Six women from NY and PA, grateful to live in a place of abundant clean water
2. We represent Mothers, Grandmothers, Sisters, and Daughters
3. We are moved to action by the threat of contaminated water from the extraction of fossil fuels.
4.Our concern over the harm that will come to our families and future generations
   prevents us from simply living our lives peacefully and gratefully.
5. We demand that public health and quality of life for future generations take priority in  decisions that affect everyone.
6. To illustrate our concerns we are carrying the most precious substance on the planet -water -90 miles on foot.
7. We do this to bring attention to how precious and vulnerable this essential resource truly is.
8 The need for clean water is something everyone has in common.
9. We seek to make this important point by visibly honoring what we love.
10 We  bring good wishes to all water drinkers and bath takers.
Tears of appreciation, smiles of joy and loud applause greeted the women’s arrival.  Tannis Kowalchuk was already dressed and negotiating hugs while on  stilts.  Greg Swartz explained the many ways he, Tannis and Simon ensure that their organic farm, Willow Wisp,  produces  excellent food with the least possible water.   A welcome fire was lit and we all noshed on a smorgasbord of salads, chili, bread, chicken, appetizers and desserts provided by each and every one of us.
Walk About Water Grassroots Event

Tannis Kowalchuk, performer and artistic director of the NACL Theater, prepares to "walk about water" on stilts. Tannis, her husband Greg Swartz and their son Simon also own the organic Willow Wisp Farm which offers great CSA deals.

Walking About Water down Callicoon, NY's Main Street.
         And then we joined the Walk About Water women for a stroll down Callicoon’s Lower Main Street  and across the bridge to Pennsylvania
        where we paused because it felt so good.
Walk About Water Grassroots Event

Forty or so water enthusiasts cross the Delaware River in the rain. They look a bit like May flowers, don't you think? In 2010, American Rivers named the Upper Delaware River, "America's Most Endangered River."

Walk About Water Grassroots Event

Misty rain and smiling faces on the Callicoon bridge to Pennsylvania.

The next day,  we  received this note  of thanks and the tears flowed all over again:
We are staying the night in one of the most beautiful communities of people we have ever seen, they gave us a party, walked with us from ny to pa,
raised money for us and sent us off with such love that we will take with us on our journey..words cannot express how full our hearts are..
THANK YOU CALLICOON NY,DAMASCUS PA WE SHOULD ALL LIVE THE WAY THEY DO

Water Walkers~

Chef Denna,Chrys Countryman, Bess Path

Guardians~Frank and Francena

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.)

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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.)

Sigh:

  • 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?”

(Jan. 20th @ 9:13 PM: Breathing just received this forwarded email from Programming Committee Chair, Brinton Baker which is addressed to WJFF's private listserv: "Hello all WJFF listserv folks, Thanks to those of you who attended the PC meeting on Monday. The passion of WJFF listeners is impressive. Your feedback has been heard. The public is invited to the next PC meeting Wednesday 1/26/11 at the Jeffersonville Village Hall at 7:30 PM. The PC will be considering all of the comments, letters and questions we have received and making a new draft of the weekend schedule. Your comments via my email are welcome. The PC will submit this new draft for public comment at least one more time, before implementing a new weekend schedule. We do appreciate everyone's patience while this process unfolds. All radio stations change their schedules. The PC is charged with this process for WJFF. With all of your support the PC will perform this role. Sincerely, Brinton Chair, WJFF PC." (Breathing note: Mr. Baker omits any mention of the Community Advisory Board or any plan for opening the process to it. As a factual note, there were no detractors at the meeting who objected to changing the schedule. They objected to change without consult, change without information, change without research or an identified target audience, change without an explanation and change rife with potential conflict of interests claims.)


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!”

BREATHING’S OPINION

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


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.

NEW  &  OLD  BUSINESS

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.

PUBLIC COMMENT


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 THE PARKING LOT AFTER THE MEETING

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.

ASTERISKS

*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.”