Monday, March 16, 2015

I took no joy in story about Oneida YMCA, Hank Leo

Dispatch Staff Photo by JOHN HAEGER
Hank Leo poses in Allen Park with his childhood home in the background on Dec. 13, 2012 in Oneida.

There have been some critical comments on Facebook directed against The Oneida Daily Dispatch, and me in particular, for publishing Sunday’s story about the involvement of Oneida YMCA and two local men in the Syracuse University cheating scandal.
This comes as no surprise, people don’t like to read bad things about their friends and revered institutions.
I took no joy in that story, either.
While I don’t know Jeff Cornish, Hank Leo is a well-liked guy, a pillar of the community and the Y is an important local institution.
I don’t know how he feels about me right now, but I’ve always counted Leo as a friend.
Every week I read and edited his column, offering constructive criticism where I could.
When he was ready to publish his first book, “Home When The Streetlights Come On,” basically a collection of his Dispatch columns, he asked me to write a forward, which I did.
In fact, while his high school English teacher, Debra Longnecker is rightly credited for editing Leo’s book, I know my weekly edits and mentoring played a role in its final form, too.And I enjoyed both working with him and providing publicity as he released this and subsequent books.
Leo’s been a speaker in The Dispatch’s Community Media Lab and a go-to guy to serve in organizations to benefit the city such at the chamber of commerce, hospital board and school board.  As a sought-after emcee of local events, he’s appeared on the pages of The Dispatch many times.
So when the word got out about the involvement of the Y and my friend in the SU cheating scandal, I was as shocked as anyone.
Although it took me two days, I slogged through the entire densely-written 94-page NCAA report; I encourage everyone interested in any aspect of this situation to read it, too.
The report makes it clear others, closer to the athletic program, committed the greatest misdeeds, such as:
•Not following the school’s policy on illegal drug use; 
•Keeping an athlete eligible to play by getting a grade changed more than a year after he took the course by apparently having someone else write an extra term paper for him.
•SU employees routinely completing assignments that athletes were handing in as their own work.
But it’s also clear that unless the NCAA is inventing everything out of whole cloth, the key allegation of academic fraud against Leo is true. The report says he was the internship supervisor of two athletes and told a professor they completed all their internship’s requirements, including 180 hours at the Y, when he didn’t know if that was true or not. 
The report noted the prof gave the students grades based on Leo’s word. Later, SU investigated and determined that neither athlete completed the work and found both guilty of “academic integrity violations.”
No matter how you slice, the NCAA report is correct; all three committed academic fraud. 
How severe was this misdeed? That’s for others to decide. 
It’s a journalist’s job to present facts, even when they are unwelcome. However, everyone’s entitled to a say-so on what those facts mean.
You could say this sort of thing happens in major college sports all the time and it’s no big deal; Leo just had the bad luck to get caught. 
Or you may view it more harshly and say it disqualifies him from continuing to serve on the school board.
The NCAA investigators say Leo told them that at the time that he was certifying the students’ internship work “he had just learned of…‘a big gigantic checking account,’ (with the YMCA tax number that Jeff Cornish was using to improperly pay athletes). The part-time tutor (Leo) became very ‘nervous’ and he admitted that he ‘did not want to hurt the student-athletes’ chances’ of receiving credit for the course,” the report says.
Once again this shows Leo’s a nice guy, but he broke an important rule.
Since I also have a right to an opinion, I’d like to think my friend fell under the influence of a bad crowd at the Carrier Dome, where winning is clearly more important than how you do it.

Read the full report: 
Read our story from Sunday:

Read other coverage
Nonprofit Quarterly:

Friday, January 23, 2015

Welcome to New York, land of corruption

I was looking through the  AP photo archive, when I ran across this picture from Jan. 24 2006.
It shows a bill signing at the Capitol in Albany and includes then-leaders, who fashioned a budget reform bill. 
It’s an interesting group, including:
(A) Speaker Sheldon Silver, charged bu federal authorities Thursday with receiving at least $5 million in bribes;
(B) Former Senate Minority leader Malcolm Smith, who’s now on trial in White Plains for bribery;
(C) Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, who was convicted of two counts of corruption in 2009, then acquitted on those charges, not because he didn’t do what he was accused of, but because under the law he helped write, his unethical actions weren’t illegal. As a final insult, the taxpayers got stuck with paying Bruno’s $2.42 million legal bill.
(D) Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned after it became known he was a regular customer of a $1,000-per-hour high-end prostitute. Investgator believe he spent mote that $80,000 on prostitutes whaile he was NY attorney general and governor.
(E) Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco who, while he’s no longer minority leader, has managed to keep his nose clean despite spending so much rime running with the rough crowd in Albany.

When we posted about Sheldon Silver to Facebook, some readers offered comments. Here are some of them:
Just like dominoes, they all fall down
• • •
It’s almost spring and it’s time to clean house in Albany.
• • •
YUP spring cleaning
• • •
Ahhh NY state politics!
• • •
Do ya think that we, the taxpayers, might get a kick-back for this waste of our $$$? We will pay for attorney fees and court costs, plus other expenses.
• • •
It’s time to clean all of the state and counties to start with.
• • •
Now if they’d only arrest Cuomo...
• • •
Let’s hope his money and influence don’t get him off the hook!
• • •
And he will walk free, and maintain his position. If any of us get arrested, we would be fired from our job. He should be fired! Today!
• • •
If anyone thinks for a moment that he will go down alone think again, he is going to be singing like a songbird! Proving again why this is the most corrupt state in the nation.
• • •
May be first of many; it’s sure about time something might be done.
• • •
Shouldn’t most of them be arrested? I only trust a couple.
• • •
They should start at the local level!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Falling through the ice is no fun

When I heard about the snowmobilers falling through the ice on Oneida Lake, it brought back not-so-pleasant memories of the time I fell through ice on the Miles River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
I was 13 or 14 years old, out hunting rabbits and squirrels with a .22 pump-action rifle handed down from my grandfather.
I was alone.
The wind was blowing; the temperature was somewhere around 20 degrees.
While the center of the brackish river was still flowing, all along the shoreline the  water had frozen. The ice was pretty thick; we had just been ice skating on it the previous day.
In what could have been a much-more-fateful decision, I decided to take a short-cut across a frozen cove.
Big mistake.
When I got to the center of the cove, where the water flowed as the tide came in and out, the ice was thinner and I fell through.
Much of this cove was shallow, but not this part; the water was over my head and cold.
There was likely nobody for miles to rescue me. I was on my own.
As you can imagine, once you’ve fallen through ice, it isn’t easy to climb out. When you grab the edge of the hole, the ice breaks right off. I did this quite a few times.
I knew I was in trouble, and could feel myself beginning to panic. But then I remembered something from science class about distribution of weight. 
I was still carrying the rifle. I slid it out on the ice about two feet from the edge of the hole. I pushed down hard on it and put my other hand on the ice, too, again as far out on the ice as I could reach.  I finally managed to get one of  my boot-covered feet out of the water and placed it as far from the hole as I could. Then I sort of rolled out of the hole, being careful not to push on the edge of the ice.
Amazingly, it worked the first time.

I still had a good hike home through the bitter wind, soaking wet, but I was one happy kid. I was alive and I had a good story to tell.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Why I'll be voting against 4-year Oneida Common Council terms

I was listening to First Ward Councilor Brahim Zogby on the radio a couple of days ago giving the reasons the Oneida Common Council is asking the voters if they should double the length of councilors’ terms, giving them 4-year terms instead of the current 2-year terms.
The thrust of his argument was that it takes a long time to learn enough about the workings of the city to be an effective councilor, especially since it’s a $5,720-per-year, part-time job. All the necessary studying and meetings must be done at the conclusion of their day jobs.
Two years is simply to short, Zogby said.
True enough, but there are lots of other factors to consider.
First, you’re only a freshman councilor once. At the end of the second term you would have the four years’ experience.
And for the most part, incumbents get re-elected; when they don’t, there’s probably a good reason.
If you were running a business, would you hire workers for four years so they would have ample time to learn everything about the job? Of course not.
We have a good group of hard-working, intelligent community-minded individuals serving on the council now. However, over the years some councilors have lacked some of these traits.
Some were lazy, picking up their information packets just before the meeting and quickly skimming them.
Some were over-extended; with lots going on in their professional and family lives, they didn’t have time to effectively serve.
Some simply didn’t have the skills necessary to make an effective contribution to city affairs.
I’m not naming names, that’s not what this is about. I’m just saying having an election every two years tends to weed out these sorts of people.
It also gives the councilors a reason to get out, knock on doors in their ward, and hear what a variety of people are thinking.
Without this, they tend to get most of their feedback from their family and friends.
While it might seem like an onerous chore to run every two years, that provision was put into the charter for a good reason -- to put the ultimate power in the hands of the voters, where it belongs.
City Prop. 2 (county Prop. 5) is a bad idea.
If getting up to speed on city government is a problem, perhaps it would be a good idea after each election, for each department head to hold a seminar on the workings of his or her department. Members of the public could attend and learn, too.
Public officials often complain too few people turn out for their meetings. Making it so the councilors have less reason to get out into the community will only add to this disconnect.
As for the mayor, while the same logic could hold, I might vote to increase that term to four years.
Unlike the councilors, he (or she) is the titular head of city government. It’s a bigger job, which is recognized by the job’s $27,000 per year salary. It takes more than two years to put together an administration and the programs and policies you promised the voters, especially since in year one, you’re working with a budget crafted by the last mayor and council.
Abrupt, frequent changes in leaders make it hard to get things done.
What do you think? Comment on this issue below or our OneidaDispatch page on Facebook.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Join us to record one week in the life of the Oneida area

The Dispatch news staff works hard every day to cover the news in this area.
But many things that are important never make the news, simply because they are not unusual. Yet, they are important parts of the fabric of everyday life: birthday parties, food shopping, trips to the hair salon or dentist, fishing, car-washing, swimming, golfing and families playing catch, canasta or conga drums.
It can be argued that these everyday activities say more about us as a community than the traditional news stories do.
The goal of this year’s edition of Oneida Proud is to document these key parts of our lives in photos.
We modeled (OK, stole) the idea from Rick Smolen’s series of “Day in the Life” photo books.
Here’s how it’s going to work: Every member of The Dispatch news staff will be out taking pictures during the week of Aug. 17 through 23.
We’ll be focusing on everyday life within the confines of the Oneida City School District. But it won’t be just us. We’re inviting everyone to participate. We’ll run as many photos as we can in the newspaper, but we can handle all publishable photos online. Please include:
• The date the photo was taken (must be during the week of Aug. 17-23);
• Where it was taken (must be within the Oneida City School District);
• The names, correctly spelled, of the people in the photo (unless it’s a large group);
• Any other relevant information.
• A daytime phone number in case we have questions.

If you have questions call me or Online Editor Leah McDonald.
You can mail or drop the photos by The Dispatch office by Tuesday, Aug. 26, or email them to me. My email address is

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Lots of changes at The Oneida Daily Dispatch

When we got our new website last fall, a few users told me they preferred our old one.
At the time I agreed.
The new website is an order of magnitude more complex on our end, but several orders of magnitude more powerful.
The truth is, when we launched we only had a rudimentary knowledge of how to operate our site; we could do the basics, but we were clearly in a hands-on learning experience.
We were one of the first in our company to adopt it. It was still a little rough around the edges. There have been major changes and upgrades since then.
This is why we’ve done little in the way of announcing our new website.
We’ve been spending a lot of time learning and providing feedback to the developers.
Plus, I knew that next week, next month the website will be better and better.
But while it’s still improving, in my opinion, it’s pretty darn good now.
I want to point out some of its features:
•New York News
On this page you’ll find a thorough AP news report, plus the most interesting stories, photos and videos from or sister news organizations in Kingston, Troy and Saratoga Springs. The page is completely redone with new stories early every morning and updated throughout the day and evening when news breaks.
•Sports News
This page is a mix of local stories and major national sports news.
Across the top you’ll see “Oneida sports,” “VVS sports,” “Canastota sports,” “Cazenovia sports,” “Camden sports” and “Southern Madison County sports.”
In other words, each of these districts has its own page, where you can still find stories, in chronological order, months after they were published.
This is new. Partnering with a firm called Eventful, the site features local and regional events and allows people to add theirs, which will appear on our site and others. There’s no catch; this is free publicity.
•Nation and World news
Our parent company, Digital First Media, is now the second-biggest local news organization in the U.S. We have a team focusing on World and National news for all our websites. The Dispatch now has excellent World and National pages that are constantly updated from a wide variety of sources, all the while freeing our editors here to focus on local and state news. Sweet.
There’s more, of course; many things are works in progress. But I hope you’ll agree it’s already a big improvement over our old website.
All this reminded me of our experience in February 2013, when we switched the newspaper to the new look and three-day printing schedule.
People said the type was too small, so we increased its size — twice. I hope people agree its lots more legible now.
This brings me to the real reason behind this blog.
It doesn’t matter what I think about our website, newspaper, app or Facebook page.
I can be replaced (don’t tell my boss). The Oneida Daily Dispatch got by for 100 years or so without me, but it can’t exist without readers.
The website and newspaper aren’t mine; they’re yours.
To that end, we are holding a pair of Community Media Lab events. One will focus on our digital efforts, the website, Facebook page, app, tweets and SMS. The other will focus on our newspaper.
There will be short demonstrations followed by question-and-answer sessions. The one-hour sessions will be held on successive Sundays.
•April 6, noon - 1 p.m.: The newspaper. I’ll demonstrate the nuts and bolts of how we put it together. I’ll explain the planning that went into the various pages and talk about how the three-day printing has affected it. There will be Dispatch people on hand to discuss delivery issues.

•April 13, noon - 1 p.m.: Digital. We’ll explore and show how stories, photos and videos are placed on it. We’ll take a look at our Facebook page and liveblogs. We’ll show our app and may have some information on our new one.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Common Core uncommonly good idea

The world’s oldest profession isn’t what you think it is.
Think about it; the world oldest profession is teaching.
Teaching began when one cave dweller grunted and showed another where to find a tasty fruit. Teaching predates language, fire, money and certainly that other “oldest” profession.
It is through teaching that culture and knowledge grows and is passed on so each generation builds on what was learned by the previous ones.
You would think that over the tens of thousands of years education has been going on -- quite successfully, I might add -- there would be some basic agreement about best practices in how to accomplish it.
But no, at least not in America.
Every few years, a new concept takes hold, more or less saying we’ve been doing things all wrong and must adopt this new way of teaching.
Remember new math?
Remember phonics?
Remember No Child Left Behind?
The latest “new idea” to hit our schools is the Common Core curriculum. It would be tempting to pigeonhole it with these previous trends of varying value.
But Common Core is more than a fad, it’s a program that guarantees a child raised in California, Connecticut or Oneida, New York  receives a comparable education in any of them. Students will have the opportunity to make themselves college-ready or job-ready anywhere.  
When students move to another state, which often happens when parents change jobs, they will find they’re learning similar things at their grade level.
Another key aspect of Common Core is that it takes as a given our students need to learn more. The world is growing more complex and workers need to be able to use today’s technology and the skills to learn tomorrow’s.
Some may fear the federal government becoming more involved in local education, and it’s a legitimate fear. With the federal government, the state Education Department and the local school board having a hand in setting policies, we must always be sure nothing keeps talented teachers from using their skills to reach individual students.
This is more about focusing on understanding over memorization and specifying which years algebra, geometry and cursive writing are taught in the same way the government already specifies that there are 12 grades and kindergarten. 

It will be a lot of work to bring our schools, curriculum in line with the challenging national Common Core standards, but our children are worth it.