Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Station identification

Let’s pause from our regularly scheduled political bickering to identify a curious circumstance that was belched out at the media by the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce right around closing time Tuesday. Just as everyone was headed out the door for the rush-hour crawl, the chamber announced that Dave Zunker, the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau chief, was abruptly resigning.

Zunker, the hastily scrolled news release claimed, simply couldn’t sell his house in South Carolina. And he missed his family. They apparently never joined him to live in Saratoga Springs, despite him receiving the job nearly two years ago.

Sound fishy? Well let’s consider this: The real estate market in Columbia, S.C., just jumped by 2.4 percent in September. While this bump did follow a protracted decline in the market along with the median sale price of homes, it does draw into question Zunker’s true motives for leaving the bureau.

In fact, the story proffered by the chamber seems almost wholly implausible for even the cheeriest of tourism cheerleaders. Basically they’re saying an executive, who made a decent enough salary to be drawn to Saratoga Springs, abandoned his full-time job so that he can return to South Carolina to be unemployed in the wayward tourism industry during the worst economic recession the country has seen in decades.

OK, Joe Dalton. We’re trying to swallow this bowling ball-sized lump your feeding, but it’s just not going down. Do you have any water? Maybe a beer? And while your at it, could you tell us how much Zunker was making for his work?

But reporters on the story couldn’t ask these questions, because the couldn’t reach Dalton for comment. Nor could they find Zunker, who seemingly vanished with the drying of the ink on Dalton’s news release. The Schenectady Daily Gazette had the fortitude to get through to Mark Suprunowicz, the chairman of the tourism bureau’s Board of Directors, but he just added to the mystery of Zunker’s departure.

“I can’t comment on any personnel or financial issues of this,” he told the paper Tuesday.

Even more curious is that Zunker left his job in the midst of an unprecedented expansion of the Saratoga Springs City Center, the facility that basically serves as the tourism bureau’s bread-and-butter. Gavin Landry, Zunker’s predecessor, pined for convention center expansion and even warned the city could lose some of the big-ticket events if it didn’t update the aging structure on Broadway.

Interestingly enough, Landry also abruptly left the tourism bureau after 12 years on the job. Only he left under slightly more favorable circumstances. He had a padded position waiting with the New York Racing Association, which was facing dissolution at the time. Landry, who was a quasi hero at the tourism bureau, decided to hedge his bets with the future of NYRA instead of doing what he did best: Booking city conventions. Then after less than a year on the job, Landry bolted that position too.

So what’s the deal? Perhaps Zunker really was just homesick. After all, he did pull into the city at a time when its golden era appeared to be waning. But for the cynics and skeptics amongst us, this assumption seems far too trite to believe. Now back to your regularly scheduled politicking...

35 Comments:

Anonymous John Kaufmann said...

Part 1.

The degradation of America's newspapers is not a new story. The number of staff in newsrooms has been continually cut making effective coverage more and more problematic. The Columbia Journalism Review has also published discussions of a new pernicious trend in which people use journalism, the pay of which is notoriously bad, as a stepping stone into the more lucrative field of public relations.

How else can one explain the story in today's paper by Mr. Bernstien on the Department of Public works project on 9P by Fish Creek and the behavior of the Commissioner of Public Works?

Mr. Bernstien's piece merely covered the accusations put forward by candidate Miller that Mr. Scirocco did not get permission from the council to perform the work out there, reported on Mr. Scirocco's response, thew in a critical quote from Commissioner Frank that reaffirmed the need to get council approval, and then finished by noting how appreciative the two Union Avenue residents were of receiving the water.

As far as one can tell, Mr. Bernstein made no effort to explore this issue in any more detail leaving the public with a classic "He said/She said" story over what appears to be a politicized turf fight about who has authority to do certain work.

It is unclear whether Mr. Bernstein read the Gazette article from the day before. The lead of this article was about how the city had run water to three homes which, due to construction near by, could no longer use their wells and were in dire straights. The article went on to say:

"Because the two homeowners weren't allowed to hook into private water lines that run nearby, including one for Regatta View (This by the way is untrue because they had been offered the option to hook up but had declined due to the cost) Commissioner of Public Works, Anthony "Skip" Scirocco agreed to extend the city water main, he said"

The article also stated that two of the residents "are paying $7,500.00 for the city to install the line..."

The Gazette article ended with a reference to Scirocco asserting that the city would benefit from the work because it would allow for a fire hydrant "on the city's side of the Route 9P bridge."

It was clear by the placing of this rationale at the end of the article that the Gazette reporter was aware that this was a thin rational regarding why the city would perform this project. There is also the manifest absurdity of putting a fire hydrant beside a body of water like fish creek.

3:16 PM  
Anonymous John Kaufmann said...

Part 2


At the council meeting Scirocco denied that he was getting special money from the people by Fish Creek. He did this to avoid the obvious problem that an agreement to perform work for these people would have required an agreement which in turn would have required him to bring it to the city council. Had Mr. Bernstein read the Gazette article he might have asked the simple question, "Had there been some sort of agreement between the homeowners and DPW to pay the city as alleged in the Gazette article?" If there had been an agreement then the obvious question was clearly something very fishy was going on here and it would have further added to the obvious truth that the hydrant story was fig leaf to cover a dubious project.

Just as important was the question as to just how large a project was this in the context of how much money was the city spending to assist these people. Again, there were sources freely available to Mr. Bernstein were he to have made any effort to explore them. The cost of the pipe alone was $7,0000.00. The city requires each resident to pay a hook up fee of $3,000.00. So at this point we are up to $13,0000.00. Now consider the cost of having a construction crew dig a trench deep enough to put a water pipe that runs 400 feet. The crew along with heavy construction equipment started the project last Wednesday and it is unlikely that the work will be completed by the end of this week. Anyone with any experience having heavy construction done for them knows that we are talking real money here. This kind of work runs to between $3,000 and $3,500 a day. So DPW as of the end of today will probably have spent another $18,000 t0 $21,000 already and the project is not done.

Would any self respecting journalist not recognize that a key element of this story in terms of the public would be letting them know the kind of money at stake here. When you get up to these kinds of numbers the public reaction would be, to put it mildly, outrage.

A good reporter would ask whether there was some larger public policy issue that makes this newsworthy so let me offer the following:

1. The fact that there is credible evidence that a public official may have spent thousands of dollars without oversight providing thousands of dollars of services to private individuals is a troubling precedent and if allowed to continue raises the real danger of abuse.

2. A public official apparently has issued contradictory statements on the record in an apparent effort to cover up inappropriate behavior.

The fact that this story is not being told to the public is extremely troubling and it comes back to the question of whether the issue is that our local paper is sufficiently starved for resources that it is unable to cover important stories or that Mr. Bernstein simply is uninterested in digging into such issues. Which ever it is, this community is poorly served.

3:16 PM  
Anonymous John Kaufmann said...

My earlier piece was originally submitted to Andrew Bernstein's blog. I subsequently received the following email from him:

Mr. Kaufmann,
I have been, and will continue to, investigate and report on the water line extension on Route 9P. Thank you for the background you provided us on that topic. Thank you also for your comments on my blog. As you can see, I have not published them, and I do not intend to as they violate the ground rules I set out in establishing the blog. In general, I would respectfully suggest to you that accusing me or any other reporter of being either lazy or "without resources" -- which I take as a euphemism for stupid -- is not the best approach for communicating with me or any other reporter. As far as your analysis of what you see as shortcomings in my report in Wednesday's paper, I would just say that I did the best I could with a story that I was not expecting to write that night, and with limited space. I would have liked to have interview Commissioner Scirocco, but the council meeting did not end until 10:30 p.m., well past press deadline. I have since spoken with him, the substance of which interview will be in a forthcoming edition of The Saratogian.

Have a nice evening, and thank you again for your assistance, AB


I responded to him with the following:
Mr. Bernstein:
Refusing to publish what was a thoughtful and sober critique is regrettable. In fact the reference "without resources" was not a euphemism at all. As with many newspapers, the Saratogian has been continually reduced in staff by its parent corporation which makes it increasingly difficult to cover the news effectively. I have complete sympathy that you were overwhelmed by the demands of covering the city council meeting and that you were put in a difficult position to try to write a story that night that in fact required more research to do properly. This only confirms the fact that there was a resource problem and that it was premature to publish a story like this without a more thorough understanding of the facts.

With respect, a person more confident in their work would have been able to publish my piece and offer it the rebuttal it deserved.

The fact that you should respond so defensively and that you would deny to your readers substantive criticism of your coverage only confirms my very worst fears.

I do appreciate that you were courteous enough to let me know of your decision to suppress my piece.

6:01 PM  
Anonymous agphoto said...

Prediction: Not so surprising, but i want to be first on record. Gavin's coming back.

7:39 PM  
Blogger Ben lives on said...

Updated video at
http://saratogaindecline.blogspot.com/

And an interesting discussion at

Http://saratogaindecline.blogspot.Com/2009/10/Ed-miller-charges-commissioner-of.HTML
With John Kaufmann

7:47 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

First off, allow me to give a high-five to agphoto for being the ONLY ONE who posted something even remotely on topic. I understand the impetus to post something on the most readily read topic, but please folks...let's try to stay even somewhat on point...

agphoto,

That's very interesting. I'm not sure if I agree. I have a feeling Gavin outgrew his shoes here and needed a bigger pair elsewhere. But that's pure and unadulterated speculation. I do think he did a great job here, and the city would be lucky to have him back.

John,

Have you ever heard of the saying, 'you attract more flies(bees)with honey...?' Well, with reporters and associated media folk, the term goes double. And if you happen to be raising an issue(albeit very valid and eloquently put) two weeks before the first Tuesday in November, you might as well just take that honey and throw it in the fridge, 'cause you're going to get lumped in with a whole crew of hacks and blowhards that will really obfuscate your point.

Realize, someone dealing with the cavalcade of complaints, accusations, angry messages, political rhetoric and associated ails during the months before Election Day is going to be on edge(as Bernstein clearly sounds in his missive). It's because the poor bloke his getting ripped six ways sideways and from head to toe five days a week; and that's if he doesn't go downtown on weekends.

I've been on record here and elsewhere saying Andrew is one of the better city reporters to grace the Saratogian in the past decade. That doesn't mean I don't think he couldn't improve in areas. But in the lot he's in and given some of his predecessors, he performs well above par. So I'd implore you to give him some time and courtesy during election season, and then try again afterward. If there's some serious malfeasance as it sounds, it won't make a difference when the issue is probed.

But with all this said, I find your story interesting. I'll take a look. Cheers, and thanks for the post.

10:07 PM  
Anonymous Kyle York said...

One can post responsibly, on-topic and to-the-point, or one can put a call into call Babs' insane 'Sound Off' and rant like Half-minute Horseman of the Apocalypse.

Until then, I await KaufmanDotKom as the place for all CyberDotScirocco rants. Closer to The Topic, I will miss David's energy and infectious enthusiasm. If he lacked the 'Killer Instinct' needed to fill our Silvered City Center II, then let the hunt for the Kommerce Kzar begin. Sharp Elbows only need apply.

Say it's gonna' be so, Joe.

-Kyle York
Broadway Booster

11:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you John Kaufmann for your reporting and your thoughts.

The sad truth is as we are all well aware is, that the Saratogian is not only often late with the local news, but all too often reports on the fly … reporting all the news that fits the printed column. This has always been “Can I quote you or he said, she said.” Anyone who has had a reporter approach them will concur with this experience.

The thing is Ho, are we saying that two weeks before the election, Mr. Berstein was unable to get to the root of a messy muddled conundrum? Or that the meatheads that operate that fucking company won’t instill in their employees the basic tenets of good investigative journalism or the ability to recognize a story when it's hitting them in the face. If the print media is dying, it won’t be because it provided good reporting to their readers. One can only imagine that if Ben Franklin were alive today -- what form of reorting would he choose to provide the news?

No doubt because of sites like yours, Andrew Bernstein he has studied some topics in greater depth offering the public an opportunity to opine, but this story in particular should have reflected an examination instead of providing the paltry collection of statements that left the public hungry.

BTW: On Station Identification, if Dick Brooks were around today, I’ll bet he would be asking one of the boys at the station for the scoop on Dave Zunker or why they were in the shadows on this one.

5:05 AM  
Blogger Ben lives on said...

What ever happened to Dick Brooks is he dead or alive? He wasn't much of a human being but a dam good reporter.

7:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone "in the know" on this issue, I can tell you with relative certainty that Gavin will NOT be back, which is unfortunate, because he IS the right person for this very important job.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of scars that lurk behind the scenes from when he departed for NYRA.

From a personal standpoint, I believe he has "moved on" from his time in Saratoga, severing ties with his friends, colleagues and confidantes here. An abject lesson for the masses-never burn your bridges.

Fare thee well David Zunker AND Gavin Landry....

7:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HO

Thanks for expanding this story on Mr. Zunker. After reading the story in the local newspaper I kept checking back for readers comments. I was ready to leave one myself, but I tought, "Gee - am I the only one questioning the gaping (covered up) holes in this "story."

Let's see, quit my job ($100,000+), go back to my first home to help continue pay for it...with what ? And I leave within a few days...what happens to my home here....my declining bank account (reason for leaving...)

I believe the same 'coup' just happened in Washington County last Friday. The Board of Supervisors trashed their Tourism Board:

http://www.poststar.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/article_1e621098-ba8c-11de-96e7-001cc4c002e0.html

BTW, what does Dalton earn ? In salary, leased cars, club memberships, cell phone, other perks ? Add Linda to that list...And we will not venture into the rental space 'aggreements....

Sorry OT--back to Mr. Zunker - What is the REAL scuttlebutt ??

I beieve in having all the factual info in order to make an informed decision--something sorely lacking in today's world.

8:15 AM  
Blogger Huck Finn said...

Gavin Landry didn't leave NYRA. He got fired for what was perceived as mishandling of box seats at the track. Seems Gavin wanted to offer seats to everyone, not just the mucky-mucks.

9:28 AM  
Anonymous John Kaufmann said...

Apologies for taking advantage of your blog but it is one of the few public forums to get info out so I am afraid I took advantage of you.

As regards Andrew Bernstein, I did not write it for him but as part of a general campaign to try to see that this story got out and I viewed his blog as a forum to reach others. It is hard to get stories written when they grow too cold and it is unfortunate that this one happened during the two weeks before the election.

In retrospect I concede your point that I should have been a little easier on him.

I will also grant that Bernstein is at a great disadvantage. As I noted in the piece, the resouces at the Saratogian are scant and there were a number of very newsworthy stories that were part of that council meeting. It is regretable that he was impelled to write this story when he was so poorly informed on the issues. Hopefully, something further will come of this.

It is very disturbing that a commissioner so grossly abused his authority in spending public money. It remains to be seen just why he did this. On some level, the reason is not really important. What is important is that some kind of action is taken to discourage this in the future.

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Ned Flanders said...

I nominate the following for this vacant post:

Erin Dreyer

I am confident she will employ BEST STRATEGIES for pursuading convention managers.

11:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dick Brooks was 110 before he left the Saratogian, so unless he's 120, i'd guess he is dead. As for THE TOPIC. You know the guy got run out of town, it would just be good to know why?

By the way, I like the off the topic comments. Saratoga is in a real pickle this november.

1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't worry too much about group sales at the City Center. Nobody ever heard of Gavin before he got here, and he did fine. Maybe Zunk's replacement will come from a local like Greg Dixon or maybe it will be a fresh face from elsewhere. whatever else happens, Saratoga will continue to be a hot destination for years to come.

And what's with the rant on Dalton's salary? he's not paid by tax dollars. He gets his money from Chamber members, a group that has grown dramatically sinse he took over in the '70s

8:01 AM  
Blogger Ben lives on said...

Were you been Ho.Election bullshit make you sick, drunk or both.

5:42 PM  
Anonymous John Kaufmann said...

How about starting a thread on the Scirocco issue.

In the Gazette this morning he is now claiming that he was mis-understood when he said the home owners were paying for the work and had provided him with a check. He says now that he originally considered asking for them to pay $7,500.00 to just pay for the materials. Why he was not asking them to pay for the six days of heavy machinery and DPW workers is never explained nor why he was waving the $6000.00 for the hookup fees the two homeowners would have had to pay.

The article concedes that in order to accept money from the home owners the city would have to set up a water district. Tony Izzo explained that all of this would have required a map, a list of properties that would benefit, and of course, what the actual cost would be. There is no real explanation in the article from Scirocco or Izzo why this was dismissed. The inforance was that it was not necessary due to the public good of the new fire hydrant but if that was the true case, why were they even thinking of having these people pay?

The public need for this hydrant is at best dubious. When it was pointed out that it made no sense putting a fire hydrant next to a body of water the size of Fish Creek Scirocco claimed that in winter ice would not make access viable. When it was pointed out that Fish Creek does not freeze there due to the fact that it is a moving piece of water, he actually conceded this in the Gazette article but claimed that the use of a "dry hydrant" would not be viable because it would freeze. A dry well is a hydrant that has a pipe running to a public source of water.

I did a quick search on this using Google and here are the first three hits:

http://www.dryhydrants.com/
http://www.dof.virginia.gov/fire/dry-hydrants.shtml
http://www.co.larimer.co.us/wildfire/dry_hydrant_concept.htm

They all show that when properly installed, freezing is not a problem.

Friends, if Tommy McTygue was trying to pull something like this people would be screaming. This was an egregious abuse by an elected official who has come up with one dubious excuse after another to hide what he has done.

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear 8:01 am
Dalton's salary is a legitimate concern, given his "coercion" past. Oh, maybe you forgot about.........Mr. Dalton, Mr. Roohan and their attempt to coerce a prominent Saratoga Springs developer.
Dalton thought he "had the goods" on the developer, but the developer outsmarted Dalton by using a concealed tape recorder which he used to tape the threats made by Roohan and Dalton.
It was all on the TV channels for everyone to see in all its raw newsworthiness.
The court gave Dalton and Roohan a mild slap on the wrist, but all of their political connections couldn't keep the news off the TV.
What an embarrassment for two "pillars" of the community.
True, his salary is not paid by tax dollars, but his time in the spotlight has grown old, and the spotlight is growing dimmer every day.
As "someone" once said "his plaid-pants" viewpoints have worn thin.
Saratoga Springs needs someone with vigor, someone dynamic, not someone who is in the twilight of his career.

3:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dalton's done, and continues to do, a wonerful job for Saratoga County. The court didn't give him a slap on the wrist, it threw the charges out. Dalton's salary is paid by aprivate organization and is no one's business.

4:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

John Kaufmann - Please go start your own blog the years have not made you any less boring

4:45 AM  
Anonymous Howard Cosell: Telling it like it is... said...

Dalton is simply a pawn to the city real estate and contracting industry.

7:59 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

John,

I've got mixed feelings on this whole issue. Part of me says the city would ultimately be liable for approving a project that damaged private property. This is all stuff that should have been taken into consideration during the SEQR process WAAAAAY back when. If the city Planning Board filed a negative declaration, the city could be liable for the damage. And in that case, Scirocco may have prevented another costly legal battle. I'm not saying this is the case, but it's something that is in the back of my mind as this thing percolates into the press. The other issue I find is the timing. When did this water line go in and why is it coming to light now? Maybe I need to re-read the articles to get a better sense of it.

I also find the residents' claim that he 'couldn't afford' to sue the developer VERY dubious. It cost hardly anything to file a notice of claim. And if he's got good proof that the development ruined his water, he'd have a very plausible legal case against both the city(or whichever municipality granted the building permit)and the developer. Anyway, if you could shed a bit more light on this questions...

8:01,

Something I did put in this post that I meant to was commentary about the bureau's 'nationwide' search. Why are we looking to South Carolina of all places for a guy(or gal) to market the city? Why not get someone local? Or better yet, someone living and enjoying city? Heck, Dan De Federicis over at funsaratoga.com would probably make a good one.

8:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wasn't Dalton, Roohan AND Cummings convicted of a class F Felony ? They got more than a slap on the wrist.

12:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They were not convicted of anything, the acting prsecutor, the DA from Fulton County, asked the judge to dismiss the charges.

4:54 AM  
Blogger Ben lives on said...

Since when did the truth ever matter to Kim and Co.

Ho please post something new.

8:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This entire David Zunker business is very fishy. Typical for Saratoga. One would think a local would be perfect for the job not someone from out of town. I digress. For just once, it would be a novel idea to deal in honesty rather than vagueness. The cast of characters is full of the usual suspects. The swift and stealth removal reeks of back room decisions, as per usual. An honest response is clearly too much to ask for.

3:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David Zunker worked for a private organization. Actually, he worked for the Board of a private organization. There is no obligation for a private organization to explain personnel matters to the general public.

6:07 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

6:07,

Very interesting...Then why did they? In fact, they not only discussed a personnel matter in public, they launched a barrage of news releases to every media organization with a fax and/or e-mail.

My point is, if you're going to half-ass something, then why do it at all? Don't spread a campaign of bullshit like the Chamber just did. Tell the truth or, as the acronym goes, STFU.

On a side note, isn't this 'private entity' funded through dues paid hundreds of businesses? Don't you think THEY have the right to know? I'm going to venture a guess and say they were kept in the dark about this, just as the public was.

BTW, my opinion is the Convention and Tourism Bureau is indelibly linked to the well-being of Saratoga Springs and is anything but private(although its caretakers often like to hide their salaries behind the fact that they're a private, not-for-profit).

9:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right. They never should have sent out the release.

11:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back to the Saratogian, Today's issue has a story on a car crash in Glens Falls and no mention of the attack on the Saratoga Coach in the State Park. Why is that? Lazy ass writer that lives in Glens Falls or Lazy ass writer that can't get out of the newsroom and drive out to the state park to see what's going on. Pathetic.

2:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back to the Saratogian, Today's issue has a story on a car crash in Glens Falls and no mention of the attack on the Saratoga Coach in the State Park. Why is that? Lazy ass writer that lives in Glens Falls or Lazy ass writer that can't get out of the newsroom and drive out to the state park to see what's going on. Pathetic.

2:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did any of you rocket scientists ever stop to think that maybe this guy wasn't passing muster as the leader of an organization. That MAYBE the players involved (board, constituents, etc.) didn't want to destroy him in the press or his prospect for future employment, as *maybe* they have a high opinion of him as a person?

Maybe instead of spinning your conspiracy theories you could root yourself in a little bit of reality, and think that they were trying to show some class and not destroy a good man who just didn't have the right fit for the job. If this is the case, I give high marks to that organizations board for allowing Mr. Zunker a graceful exit.

6:10 PM  
Anonymous John Kaufmann said...

Horatio:

I guess the first issue is that we have no documentation that the development at Regatta is the source of the homeowner's water problems. I do not dismiss this allegation but we have no idea to what extent the lack of science has contributed to the reticense of the homeowners to sue. It would be helpful to know what the basis of the claim is.

As you note, the homeowner indicated that he was not going to pursue litigation. There is no reason based upon the available information that we should not take him at his word.

In fact, if there was a potential liability, then there is no reason that Scirocco could not have used this as his argument when he approached the council. Since he was not responsible for the original decision he would have nothing to lose. More important, the council could consult with attornies to determine to what extent the city had a real liability.


As regards the timing, the construction work on this project started only about a week and a half ago which explains the timing.

This kind of indifference to public malfeance is disheartening. Allowing Scirocco to provide favors at great expense to the city and to ineptly attempt to cover this up is a very bad precedent. It sets a very low bar for people who are elected in terms of lying, abuse of office, and favortism.

7:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

6:10 pm:

Nice job. From what I gather, you are on the money. The many people out there starving for a scandal have overlooked the simple reason why many people in executive positions get terminated: they just didn't fit. I suppose they will want the minutiae now as to why he didn't fit in order to really get all up in his business.

1:03 PM  

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