Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Press prudence, political posturing, pistol permits and patronage.

The publication by the Journal News of a map containing information freely available to the general public about the possession of pistol permits, brought the politicians out en masse to posture over a 'Name and Shame' issue they can do nothing about.

On January 15, 2013 the legislators passed a resolution by a vote of 9 to 4 "condemning the Journal News for exercising poor judgment in its decision to create an interactive website making the names and addresses of all lawful pistol permit holders in Rockland and Westchester Counties readily available to members of the public and demanding the removal of the website."

The English language offers a host of possible verbs to use in a situation such as this which give an indication of the level of the offense and the degree of disapproval that one might wish to express about the act committed. Some of the legislators voting against the resolution objected to the use of the word "condemn". For example, while one might properly use the word 'condemn' to speak about those who display swastikas, one should perhaps not use the same word to speak about someone who had run a red light. 'Admonish' might be sufficient in the latter case indicating, that while one disapproves of the act, the disapproval is expressed in a good-willed manner. Repeated acts of running a red light might then be escalated to use of the word 'chide' and one might also 'reproach' the offender by pointing out that running red lights repeatedly is not acceptable behavior; 'rebuke' and 'condemn' can then be reserved for acts that have become so egregious that an action must be taken against the offender involving some degree of punishment.

The Journal News has clearly 'run an orange light' quite deliberately - it has not violated any law but it has outraged many people and has led to fear about unforeseen consequences. No legal action can be taken and no legal punishment can be inflicted though citizens may exercise their right not to purchase, or place advertisements in the paper. That being the case perhaps a resolution using the word 'admonish' would have been more appropriate and would have achieved a unanimous consensus. 

But let's face it - after driving Rockland County into near junk bond status and raising taxes by 30% in 2012 and 18% in 2013, the legislators need to be congratulated periodically and permitted to let off some steam, or should I say 'gun smoke' even if it involved no agreement on a somewhat minor and soon to be forgotten resolution.  

However, one wonders now if the political commentary itself is encouraging a few in our community to do violence to others?  In the New York Times January 07, 2013 article 'After Pinpointing Gun Owners, Paper Is a Target' we note that: 

Personal information about editors and writers at the (Journal News such as) where their children attended school has been posted online; some reporters have received notes saying they would be shot on the way to their cars; bloggers have encouraged people to steal credit card information of Journal News employees; taunting phone calls sprinkled in with callers who said “you should die”. 

This 'lynch mob' behavior ought to be 'condemned' by all of us especially those who have been wronged by the publication of their names and addresses and those who seek to speak for them in the public forum. These few individuals in our midst are not 'Martin Luther Kings' prepared to oppose perceived wrongs with peaceful protest. 

With that 'admonition' let me observe that forty years ago my first cousin was shot dead leaving two young children. Another cousin remains paralyzed from the waist down having been sprayed by automatic gunfire. Given those experiences, I have no objection to any citizen who is properly vetted receiving a gun permit. The Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess and carry firearms.  I personally disagree with its interpretation - the Second Amendment refers to a 'well regulated militia' and I doubt that most permit holders are members of any militia whatsoever; yet the law is settled and since it is unlikely to be changed there is no use in me 'blowing smoke' about it. 

Further, the Journal News was right on target when it wrote in an Editorial:  

Public means public. Under New York’s firearms statute: “The name and address of any person to whom an application for any license has been granted shall be a public record.” The meaning of this provision already has been vetted in the courts ... the State’s highest court rejected arguments that publication of the information could endanger gun owners

Just as I disagree with the Supreme Court's ruling on the Second Amendment, I also disagree with the New York firearms statute - it violates one's right as a citizen to have privacy -yet the law is settled and hopefully it will be changed but in the meantime there is no use in me 'blowing smoke' about it either. 

Citizens have a right to own a gun and to have a right to information about that ownership, though mass publication of the home addresses and locations of permit owners may have gone over what one might reasonably believe is a line of press prudence.

No one should disagree, however, that freedom of the press is one of the paramount strengths of the United States and ought to be protected at all costs especially when the press exercises its rights in a way that results in consequences few of us like.  If it were not for a free press we might not know that: 

"Rockland County Clerk Paul Piperato pleaded with the Journal News editorial board not to publish the "largely inaccurate" database of pistol permit holders' addresses.  According to Piperato a large number of the names and addresses on the map are not even correct. 

This surprising revelation raises the question of why the County retains records of gun permit holders at all if a large amount of the information in its files is inaccurate”.  What use is information to the County if it has no idea which record is accurate and which is not?  A database with an inaccuracy level of 25% is of no use to anyone.  At what level of inaccuracy does the County believe its information is completely useless?   

By its own admission Rockland County has lost control over its gun-permit process.  Before 'gun smoke' politicians try to manage the newspaper business perhaps they should be 'chided' to clear up the records mess concerning who does or does not have a gun permit in Rockland County.

That should be priority #10.  

Before getting to that they should be 'rebuked' for not clearing up the fiscal mess they have created for the citizens of Rockland County and which they continue to view through smoke-tinted glasses.

This should be priority #1.

In our local area in 2012 home sales went up 15% but home prices went down! The norm is for prices to go up when sales climb but that trend is over in Rockland County because rising property taxes are driving prices down and stealing everyone's equity.  

If you are a senior citizen not only did rising taxes take away the 1.7% increase you will get in your social security in 2013 but those who tax you have now decided to take away the savings you have built up in your home. They are feathering their own nests at your expense as the Journal News should know.   

Here is how ........

In an article on Sunday, January 13, 2013 headlined Local Identity Costs a Lot in Annual taxes the Journal News states:

Property taxes rose by about 9 percent in the Lower Hudson Valley between 2008 and 2011, twice the rate of inflation during a time median household income fell. The wealthiest counties in the nation — three Washington suburbs in Virginia, where many more services are provided at the county level, including schools — have much higher income but half the median property taxes.

The Rockland County Legislature has spent the County into so much debt that its bond rating is about to go to junk status and yet it has refused to cut costs even to the extent of refusing to get rid of the horses that its mounted patrol uses "to control crowds".

Speaking about the County's 2013 budget Legislator Jobson remarked:

"It’s funny, all the fat cats get covered and all the fat cats get taken care of, but the little people, when push comes to shove, the little people are the first ones to get kicked out of the door or to get told, ‘sorry, we don’t have the money for that.’ We could have cut 100 six-digit jobs out of that county budget and not a soul that resides in this county would have said, ‘boo,’ because they would’ve never even noticed it." 

Now that the smoke is clearing over the Journal News having published a database about gun permits that is not worth the ink that the newspaper used to reproduce it, perhaps the editors might now turn their attention to one database that is highly accurate and which these 'gunslinger' politicians refuse to shoot at. This is the only database that is permanently covered by a smoke screen.   It is a database known to both Legislator Jobson and P.T. Thomas, the Head of the CSEA.

On December 18, 2012 when the County Legislature voted to override Vanderhoef's budget vetoes and retain full employment for all of the County's CSEA employees. I took the opportunity to ask P.T. Thomas if he knew how many patronage appointments there were in the County; I ventured a guess there were thirty to forty.  Thomas, having no difficulty with 'name and shame', immediately stating that there are 110 patronage positions costing the County a minimum of $5-7 million per year in salaries.

At this point a Journal News reporter stepped up and asked for a statement about the CSEA jobs that had been saved by the Legislature's vote. During the conversation Thomas again repeated his assertion about the number of patronage positions and he went on to 'reproach' one patronage appointee saying:

"Legislator Sparaco should be ashamed of himself - he took a $75,000 patronage job and here he is trying to lay off union people!"

The Journal News reporter sniffed "we covered that".

Thomas was not 'blowing smoke' at the Journal News.  In the 'Our Town' newspaper of December 12, 2012 one legislator 'chided' that "patronage employees are the most protected in County government to the extent that suggesting cuts was heresy".

One must assume that this legislator has an equally accurate database as Mr. Thomas for him to have made this statement on the record during a public meeting.  Additionally, various legislators have commented that the head of one department is making as much as the County Executive; one deputy commissioner will be collecting three pensions upon retirement; the Head of Tourism for Rockland County is receiving more that $100,000 for what is basically a position overseeing a website; one patronage person was laid off but was immediately re-hired 'temporarily' in a higher paid position.   

This raises the question of why the Journal News should not be 'admonished' when it was so anxious to publish an inaccurate public database about the lawful activities of private citizens yet does not publish the widely known database that identifies 110 patronage positions law-abiding citizens are paying taxes to support to the tune of $5 - $7 Million per year before benefits?

Ironically, one of the main people "condemning" the Journal News and preparing the firing squad's statement was none other than the Legislature's own 'shotgun rider' Frank Sparaco.  Sparaco was identified by the Journal News as one of five most egregious patronage appointees in the County when it named the following individuals in the Town of Clarkstown:

Frank Sparaco receiving $75,000 part time called his job a "political appoinment".

Ed Lettre, executive director of the Rockland Conservative Party receiving $169,000.

Mary Loeffler, chair of the Rockland Conservative Party retired at $134,000. 

Marsha Coopersmith outsourced at $126,590. Coopersmith controlled the Independence Party until 2010 when a Sparaco-led effort wrested control of the party and landed Sparaco's mother-in-law, Debra Ortutay, in the chairmanship .... Ortutay's attorney (in her trial for forgery and perjury and Coopersmith's replacement) was Jay Savino.  

Jay Savino, Chairman of the Bronx Republican Party, hired by Clarkstown in January 2011 for $87,000.

P.T. Thomas can not be 'admonished' for speaking forcefully on behalf of the union members he represents.  But perhaps the Journal News deserves to be 'admonished', even 'chided', if it does not exercise the right of a free press to ask for and publish the database that Thomas and Jobson claim to know to a high degree of accuracy and thereby inform the taxpayers of Rockland County who are the other one hundred-plus patronage people on the taxpayers' payroll. 

When politicians posture over press prudence and pistol permits rather than political patronage, the smoke is rising fast and it will get in your eyes!  

Picture is a screenshot from Journal News article


This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Gerold Bierker January 16, 2013 at 01:20 PM
Publishing the names/addresses of pistol premit holders is reckless. Not publishing the names of patronage appointees including those who draw other public sector pensions including elected officials, persons who are related to elected officials, is feckless
Brenda M January 17, 2013 at 07:43 PM
I guess that this is the website that someone is being paid one hundred thousand to manage? http://www.rocktourism.com/index.php?/site/contact_us Who is managing it? Didn't Ed Day mention this as a position that should be eliminated?
Siobhan January 18, 2013 at 11:06 AM
Mr. Bierker --- You were the legislator who formerly had the seat now occupied by Carey. Do you agree that there are many people occupying patronage positions that would never be missed as Jobson says? Do you agree with his statement and why can these people not be gotten rid of?


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