It's now been an entire year since an early morning fire destroyed two buildings on Jay Street in Schenectady and claimed the lives of four occupants.
Yet today, about all we know is the source of the fire. The survivors of the victims and the other citizens of Schenectady are no closer to knowing what other factors contributed to the tragedy than they were the day the fire started.
Those families deserve answers. The public deserves answers. A full year has passed. Why haven't they gotten any?
Throughout the past year, the Schenectady County District Attorney's Office has been mum on its investigation. There have been no updates, only no-comments.
Schenectady city officials from the mayor on down have conveniently escaped responsibility from answering questions, citing the district attorney's investigation.
And public documents related to the inspections of the buildings, documents that should be legally available to the citizens, have been removed from the public's view because of the investigation.
Attempts by The Gazette and other media outlets to obtain the documents under the state's Freedom of Information Law have been denied, even though the executive director of the state Committee on Open Government says officials have no legal justification for taking the documents out of the public files and for keeping them a secret.
These documents could shed light on whether the buildings were properly inspected and what, if any, violations were found. They could shed light on who, if anyone, is responsible for allowing the conditions that contributed to the spread of the fire.
Beyond the actual fire itself, the inspection reports and other related paperwork could shed light on the city's building inspection process and expose any potential shortcomings. That information, if released, could possibly lead to procedural or personnel changes within city government, which in turn could be used to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring.
In addition, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has not released documents relating to its investigation.
So far, no one — not the owners of the building, not the city code inspection office — has been either officially cleared or officially cited in the case.
There has been no disciplinary action against anyone, as far as public officials are saying. There have been no grand jury indictments, as far as the public is being told.
If the investigation is still active and ongoing, then at least tell the public that. Maybe investigations such as these take longer than a year to process. But if all the information has been gathered and all the witnesses interviewed, what's the hold-up? If a grand jury is going to consider criminal charges, tell the public that.
Give the public something, anything to let us know what caused this horrible tragedy, who or what might be responsible for contributing to it, and what can be done to prevent it from happening again.
The victims of the fire deserve to know what happened. But so far, all they have are memories of lost loved ones and a slew of unanswered questions.
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