Proud of local reporting

Advance Media New York

If you think the editorial board is more frequently tooting the horn for local journalism, you’re not wrong. We are making the case for the value of our work to subscribers and the community. We also are standing up for the role played by a free and independent press in a democracy, in the face of growing hostility to it.

Perhaps no one embodies that hostility better than Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The governor hadn’t met reporters in person for months, claiming Covid-19 prevented it even as he conducted large public events with supporters. As sexual harassment allegations mounted, and the Albany press corps broke story after story about the administration’s cover-up of nursing home deaths due to Covid, Cuomo faced unrelenting pressure from the media to answer questions in person from journalists not handpicked by his staff. Before we could pile on, the governor held a news conference Monday in Syracuse. He could not avoid addressing the various scandals that beset him. With great power comes great scrutiny.

We’ve been arguing for months for the action taken last week by the state Legislature, and later Cuomo, to roll back arbitrary Covid-19 rules setting a curfew at bars and restaurants, requiring that patrons order food with their drinks and putting unenforceable limits on socializing at weddings and other events. The Legislature also repealed an executive order exempting high-level state government “volunteers” from ethics rules and a lobbying ban — an action aimed at Larry Schwartz, Cuomo’s powerful vaccine czar. Schwartz resigned. It’s about time lawmakers reined in the governor’s emergency powers. We urge Cuomo to put Covid decision-making into the hands of local authorities; they have the best handle on local public health conditions.

We’re also proud of the work of our sports and news staffs to unravel the mystery behind the suspension of Syracuse University lacrosse star Chase Scanlan. If the university had its way, the reason for team discipline against Scanlan would never have come to light. Our reporting connected it to a domestic violence call to police. The district attorney has opened an investigation into the incident and campus police’s handling of it. We’re also grateful to the five captains of the lacrosse team who kept the pressure on by refusing to practice with Scanlan. As sports commentator Brent Axe remarked Friday, these young adults are schooling the athletic department, university administration and Coach John Desko about the seriousness of the allegation.

Then there is our investigation of the Syracuse Police Department’s practice of paying police officers to stay home during the heat of the Covid-19 pandemic. City officials would not estimate the cost so staff writer Chris Libonati did the math, putting the cost to taxpayers at more than $200,000. Common councilors called for an official audit. Last week, City Auditor Nader Maroun confirmed our findings, only it was even worse — the cost was nearly $300,000. Maroun also found the department paid other officers overtime to fill shifts that could have been filled by officers paid to stay home. The auditor could not determine the cost of OT because of antiquated record-keeping. Chief Kenton Buckner disagreed with some of the auditor’s criticisms, saying he was “flying in the dark” about Covid-19. Mayor Ben Walsh now says the practice should have been handled differently. That’s an understatement. While we don’t expect another crisis of Covid-19 proportions, safeguards should be put in place to prevent such wasteful policies in the future.

Finally, Onondaga County sheriff’s deputies could have body-worn cameras by the end of May — just weeks after staff writer Samantha House wondered aloud why the county’s second-largest police force didn’t have them. Sheriff Eugene Conway’s excuse for not buying them melted away when — nine hours after the story was published — County Executive Ryan McMahon found the money. The result will be protection for law enforcement and members of the public when their interactions go awry.

This is local journalism in action. We’re grateful that our subscribers make this kind of work possible.


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