Two closed doors open just a crack

How happy am I? About half, maybe three-quarters.

How happy am I? About half, maybe three-quarters.

The Appellate Division ruled the other day that Schenectady can hold open hearings into the discipline of its police officers, thus reversing a decision by local judge Barry Kramer, and that was most welcome to everyone but members of the Police Benevolent Association, including to me. But at the same time it required that the city negotiate this new form of discipline with the PBA, which would bring state arbitrators back into the picture and could wind up negating the whole thing. That remains to be seen.

Also, the Schenectady school board agreed to release thousands of long-suppressed e-mails that accompanied, or should have accompanied, the report into the activities of the notorious Steve Raucci, thus short-circuiting an appeal by this newspaper and the Times Union of yet another wildcat decision by Judge Barry Kramer.

That was last year. We jackals of the press had filed a Freedom of Information request for the Raucci report, and the bad old school board and the bad old school administration, now departed, first denied the request and then mockingly granted it by releasing the report, all 190 pages of it, with almost every line blacked out.

We went to court, and Judge Kramer amazingly ruled that the school board had acted properly without even reading the report for himself to see what had been blacked out and whether it met the standards of the Freedom of Information Law for secrecy or not.

We were hot to appeal, since it was unthinkable that such a decision could withstand review, but then a couple of things happened. First, the school board reversed field and did release the report, which turned out to be nothing but a whitewash anyway, but then it continued to withhold the thousands of e-mails that were also requested. We still wanted to see those e-mails, of course.

A new school board took a more reasonable view of the matter, and we wound up negotiating a settlement that will allow us to see the e-mails with only such details omitted as may be properly shielded under the Freedom of Information Law, like Social Security numbers, for example, or home addresses.

To be honest, we were concerned that if we won the appeal it would simply mean the decision would be kicked back to Judge Kramer for further consideration. The Appellate Division would tell him, no, you can’t do it that way. You have to read the report and you have to read the e-mails to see what parts may properly be concealed, and naturally we had little confidence in his ability or his willingness to be any more fair the second time around. So we settled, with the proviso that any disagreements about what can be blacked out will be referred to an arbitrator.

It’s old stuff, by now, those e-mails between school officials, but principle is principle. We have a right to see them, and we’re going to see them. The sad part is that Judge Kramer’s decision does not get overturned but technically still stands, even as we contrive to circumvent it.

Which is why I say I’m about half happy, or maybe three-quarters.

And that applies as well to the ruling on police discipline. I was entirely happy to see Judge Kramer’s decision get overturned — it had been a gratuitous extension of his authority, deciding more than he had been asked to decide — but I was dismayed that the Public Employment Relations Board still has a hand in the matter.

You don’t know how much I would enjoy attending a public disciplinary hearing for a police officer. It would be a new day in history.


Call it perversity, but I popped over to the Capitol the other day for the National Day of Prayer festivities, or I should say, I popped over to the park right behind the Capitol. (To see photos, check the Gazette’s website.)

A few hundred people were on hand, I estimate, in addition to the distinguished speakers, a chorus, a color guard, and a few media people. In other words a modest-sized crowd for these pious times, perhaps attributable to the chill wind that was blowing.

The one thing that struck me most forcefully was the distinctly Christian tone of the thing, despite claims you hear now and then that the National Day of Prayer is for everyone. If a token rabbi took the microphone at some point, I missed him. All I heard over the course of two hours was Jesus this and Jesus that and “in Christ’s name we pray.” So let’s not kid ourselves on that score.

There was even a limousine circling the park with balloons on top spelling out JESUS in art deco lettering.

A Hindu or a Muslim would have felt as much at home as an illegal Mexican immigrant carrying a hammer-and-sickle flag at a Tea Party rally.

They prayed, of course. They prayed for Mayor Jennings, who assured us that he himself prays every morning when he gets up and every evening before going to bed. They prayed for Albany County Executive Mike Breslin. They prayed for Gov. Cuomo. They prayed for the state Legislature. They prayed for President Obama. They prayed for the military. They even prayed for the media, at one point, prompting me to look cautiously over my shoulder to make sure no one was coming at me.

A five-member “color guard” from LaSalle Institute, a Catholic school in Troy, stomped up and down, “presenting arms” and such tomfoolery and stood ostentatiously at attention in their quasi-military uniforms and with their mock rifles, their flags flapping in their faces, while the distinguished speakers ostentatiously prayed at the microphone.

Patriotism, militarism and piety — it has always been a winning combination, and it was again on this day in Albany.


In one New York Times story the other day I found, “the slashing of jobs are part of Mr. Bloomberg’s effort” and, “the number of layoffs are slightly less,” indicating that someone at the Times follows my old tongue-in-cheek rule that the verb agrees with the noun closest to it.

You see it and hear it a lot. A logical person would say “the number of layoffs is slightly less,” and, “the slashing of jobs is part,” but logical persons have never been in abundant supply, especially when it comes to language.

Categories: Opinion

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