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.”

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(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.   http://ecode360.com/13910345

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.

Sullivan County Considers Drilling Resolutions. Barth Letter Postscript


Kudos to  the Sullivan County Legislature’s  Public Works Committee  for bringing drilling  before the  full  Board of Legislators!  The members of the Committee are David Sager (Chair),  Elwin Wood, Jonathan Rouis, Jodi Goodman, Leni Binder, Alan Sorensen and Frank Armstrong.

The Committee has  given us an opportunity to congratulate its members and to  ask  the County Board to:

  • hold public fora with  commissioners  and emergency responders for the benefit of  county residents;
  • anything else you believe  will help protect Sullivan County residents as we move forward.

If you wish to speak,  it’s suggested you get there  by 1:30.    Meeting begins at 2:00 PM

The Sullivan County Democrat’s full story on the  Committee’s resolutions can be read here and is excerpted below:

MONTICELLO — Legislators on the Public Works Committee unanimously agreed Thursday to ban gas drilling involving hydrofracking on all county-owned properties.
Citing environmental, water quality, traffic and property impact concerns, the resolution says no such drilling will be allowed “until such time as the potential long-term, cumulative and indirect environmental and public health impacts are adequately addressed and appropriate mitigation measures are identified.”
An accompanying resolution was also approved on Thursday, urging Congress to “amend pertinent federal laws to adequately safeguard the environment and the public from any environmental and health risks associated with hydrofracking.”
Both resolutions will go before the full Legislature this Thursday for official approval. The meeting is open to the public and will be held at 2 p.m. at the Government Center in Monticello.

*************************************

It was brought to my attention that the link to The River Reporter’s letters section which I included in my Hodgepodge :  Sullivan County Leases;  David Jones article is not working.

In a follow-up to  the “Hodgepodge” article,  Mr. James Barth, who authored  the letter concerning Mr. David Jones’ land transactions, wrote a comment at Breathing which provides background for the publication of his letter.

Those interested in reading his letter for a fuller understanding can find it here or  here.

Breathing recommends that regular readers of this column subscribe to the comment section’s  RSS feed in order to participate in its  “community forum” potential.  For instance,  one resident (“Deemer”)  has suggested local action in a comment this morning and is looking for feedback and possible support.

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.)

Buy local. Read local. Eat local.

Events over the last few weeks have demonstrated that a news renaissance might be in the offing. Leni Santoro (former award-winning journalist-editor-photographer for The Crier) and Beth Quinn are back in the saddle. Check out Leni’s Catskill Chronicle and Beth and Friends’ Zest of Orange. CottageWorks is up and running with pages for referring local workers, freely advertising local events, Swaps & Barters, a Second Hand Shop and for selling and buying locally-produced goods. The Mamakating Messenger is another source for local news as is Ellenville’s Shawangunk Journal.


Every few years,  a new movement springs up.  In the sixties, housewives were freed to be all they could be.  Our  political conscience then  hop scotched  through Columbus’ treatment of Native Americans  and our systemic subjugation of African Americans.  Each group — whether they be  Latino, Irish or tree huggers — gets its day in the sunshine of national consciousness.   One can argue that a piecemeal approach to  human and Earth rights doesn’t work, but it’s how we’ve limited ourselves in the past.

Today, it’s all about  raising a Green Standard in Defense of  Local Communities.  Buy local, save gas.  Eat local, save the micro-ecology. Save the micro-ecology and we’ll preserve a healthy-world-diversity.

Everywhere we look,  hard copy newspapers are dying  slow strangling deaths.  Recently,  after years of cuts and accommodations,  The Rocky Mountain News and The Seattle  Post-Intelligencer stopped arriving  on doorsteps.

Until recently, our Sullivan County backyards have been blessed with a  bevy of local news sources.

Perhaps we took them for granted because  The Times Herald Record was sold to Rupert Murdoch’s  News Corps and presto-change-o, Beth Quinn was canned.  Predictably,  readers in Orange and Sullivan Counties cried out.  We sent a flurry of letters supporting her.  The Orange County Legislature declared August 9, 2008  “Beth Quinn Day”  and hundreds turned out to commemorate her thirty years of community service.  (While some elected officials acknowledged her role in keeping our local ecology vibrant, to my knowledge,  The Times Herald Record neither published our letters nor covered our day with Beth.)

In 2006,  Catskill-Delaware Publications purchased The Towne Crier and its loyal readers held their collective breath in dismay.  Publisher, Fred Stabbert,  did not increase the Crier’s online presence.  In fact,  few articles appear in the online version of  Mr. Stabbert’s flagship paper, The Sullivan County Democrat. Local activists were not surprised when Mr. Stabbert  merged the two papers and The Crier breathed its (probably) last independent breath in May 2009.

Members of a local community need information about local happenings.  How else do we know where to volunteer?  Without local advertising,  how do we know where to buy local products and services?  Where will we learn about the latest School Board fracas or Town Board tumult?  How will we know that our neighbors are descending en masse on Town Hall to protest tax assessments?  How will we know when gambling interests, power line advocates  and natural gas “frackers”  have drawn a bead on our green mountains and fresh waters?

Citizen journalists,  local advocates and volunteer-run public radio (WJFF-90.5) that’s how.  Sustainable Sullivan, Coalition for a Casino-Free Sullivan,  The Riverkeeper, members of  the Upper Delaware Community, The Towne Crier,  The River Reporter and many others investigated and reported what they believed were threats to our “way of life.”   WJFF ensures we have  multiple community fora for airwave discussions.  (The River Reporter’s current online front page is devoted to  natural gas extraction from shale beds and the resultant designation of the Delaware River as endangered.)

Events over the last few weeks have demonstrated that a news renaissance might be in the offing.   Leni Santoro (former award-winning journalist-editor-photographer  for The Crier) and Beth Quinn are back in the saddle.  Check out Leni’s  Catskill Chronicle and Beth and Friends’  Zest of Orange. CottageWorks is up and running with pages for  referring local workers, freely advertising local events, Swaps & Barters, a Second Hand Shop and for selling and buying locally-produced goods.   The Mamakating Messenger is another source for  local news as is Ellenville’s  Shawangunk Journal.

Most of these  efforts are in their infancy and though we might not agree with  their points of view,  our communities need and deserve a wide-ranging discussion of the forces brought to bear on us whether they originate in China, Washington, D.C., our State Capitols or our Town Boards.

*    *   *   *

Disclaimer:  Liz Bucar is the proprietor  of CottageWorks and holds a longtime bias in favor of the community servants & groups mentioned in this article.  She offers heartfelt apologies to any groups not mentioned.  Hopefully, you’ll contact her so your group, local business and events will be posted in a future article or at one of CottageWorks pages.