Chasing corrections

Chasing corrections

The Daily Freeman, to its credit, is one of the few publications I read that publishes a standing correction section on mistakes it makes. It is, however, of no small annoyance to some readers that the boo-boos on Page 1 get corrected in a little box buried in the back of the paper. That’s still better than nothing.

Apparently, to avoid further confusion, a policy was established long ago to omit the original mistake, as in “the mayor will host a pity party for his former opponents at his home at 7 p.m. on Saturday. The time was incorrectly reported in Thursday’s editions.”

Going on two weeks ago, the Freeman reported, citing testimony at a public hearing on the proposed 2020 county budget, that county executive Pat Ryan had included $75,000 to pay for public financing of county level political campaigns. The county executive’s staff was quick to advise the paper that no such recommendation was contained anywhere in Ryan’s 296-page proposal released in early October or in the 96-page capital plan accompanying it.

The Freeman dutifully ran a correction that said the money was not included in the budget. Alas, I missed the correction and proceeded to blast the executive for supporting a policy which I and numerous others opposed. I too got an email from executive staff to correct my mistake.

They say challenge presents opportunity, so here’s some more detail on an interesting story.

The day after the election, the legislature’s Ways and Means Committee held the first of several scheduled public hearings on Ryan’s $342 million proposed budget for next year. One of the speakers was Janet Knott, president of the 1,000-member county CSEA union. When CSEA presidents speak in public session, legislators listen, as do journalists. Such eminences are known in the trade as “credible figures.” Knott, offering her “personal opinion,” expressed strong opposition to the “proposal” that $75,000 would be included in Ryan’s budget to pay for public campaigns.

Somehow that got garbled in transmission. “I didn’t say I was opposed to the money in the budget,” she said this week.  “We’re opposed to the whole idea of public financing of campaigns.”

A reporter approached minority leader Ken Ronk of Wallkill for confirmation after the hearing. Ronk, who serves on a special legislative study committee (and is opposed to the proposal) didn’t seem to recall whether he “confirmed” anything. “I may have, but I was hearing it for the first time (in the context of the budget),” he told me.    

Union regional rep Howard Bahl put it in stricter terms. “We are vehemently opposed to public financing of campaigns,” he said. “The county has cut services at least 30 per cent over the last decade. They should put that money into restoring services. We’re residents and taxpayers, too.”

And the $75,000? Knott said she wasn’t sure where that figure came from other than she’d heard it mentioned a few times. The answer came from retiring legislator Kathy Nolan of Shandaken. “That was a number we (the three-member special committee) discussed as seed money should the legislation be adopted,” she told me. Nolan, as a strong supporter of public financing of elections, will have to advocate as a private citizen next year after losing her bid for reelection to John Parete of Olive.

For now, things remain in limbo. Special committees serve only for the duration of the legislature that appointed them, which ends Dec. 31, and Ryan, after raising hundreds of thousands for his executive campaigns, has given no indication he supports restrictions therein.

As for the reporting, it looks like we’ve got it right now after countless contacts with officials. But let’s not call it “fake news,” something deliberate, devious and intentional. Such was not the case here.