Where were the TimesLedger reporters when the Office of the Borough president held two important public meetings?
In the dark.
After speaking with staff attorneys, Dan Andrews, the spokesman for borough President Helen Marshall, found loopholes that allowed him to deny our reporters access to a public meeting in which the reorganization of the public education system was discussed. The state's Open Meetings law, sometimes known as the Sunshine Law, requires that most governmental meetings be open to the press. The principle is that government operates best in the light of day. But Andrews and his legal eagles found ways to weasel around this law.
Andrews said he could bar reporters from the April 29 meeting, in which the new school plan was discussed because it was convened by the borough president's task force, which is not a decision-making body. In that meeting, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein talked with parents about the reorganization of local school district in Queens. Ironically, Andrews defended his attack on freedom of the press by claiming, "We want to encourage a free exchange of ideas."
In January, Andrews barred a TimesLedger reporter from a meeting on the Grand Central Parkway. He said the people attending the meeting had not been told in advance that the press might be there and he added that it would be unfair because other newspapers had not been given notice about the meeting. That, of course, is Andrews' fault not ours.
The real loser in this controversy is the public. In most cases, the borough's community newspapers are the only source that Queens residents have for news about local issues. When officials take it upon themselves to arbitrarily decide which meetings will be open to reporters, they create the perception that public policy in Queens is made behind closed doors.
It should be very simple. If the public is invited to discuss public policy with public officials, then the press should be allowed to observe, even if isn't invited. The presence of a reporter may cause some speakers to feel inhibited. It may cause others to be overly dramatic. But if the doors are barred and reporters are shut out, you will be left in the dark.
Last weekend we honored the American soldiers who gave their lives to protect freedom of speech and freedom of the press. That freedom should not be denied by attorneys hiding behind fine print and loopholes.
Editorial: It happened before
Perhaps the most tragic thing about the death of Alberta Spruill is that the NYPD already knew that the system for staging raids on the homes of suspected drug dealers was flawed. Ms. Spruill died of a hear attack after a dozen police officers broke down the door to her Harlem apartment and set off a flash grenade.
Jushik Min, an 81-year-old Korean grandmother living in the Bland Houses in Flushing knows well how frightening such a raid can be. In December the police broke down her door and threw her to the ground before realizing they had made a terrible mistake. Adding insult to injury, the Housing Authority then tried to kick her out of the public housing.
The police can no longer stage raids based solely on the word of an arrested drug dealer. We must find a way to ensure that this tragedy is not repeated. The family of Ms. Spruill has hired the egotistical Johnnie Cochran to sue the city. What could be more unsavory than watching this high-priced ambulance-chaser put the squeeze on a city that is already on the brink of bankruptcy.
Editorial: Early intervention
The oldest kids attending the CHIP Harbor School in Astoria are only 3. The Children's Home Intervention Program, or CHIP serves children battling autism and other developmental delays. Although it was once thought that autism was incurable, the dedicated people at CHIP understand that, with early intervention, the effects of autism can be reversed and at least some children can go on to live relatively normal lives.
The key is early intervention. For the parents of the autistic child, the experience can be devastating. In too many cases parents live in denial for years as they watch their child go deeper and deeper into a world of his or her own with little or no social interaction. For every month and every year they waste, the chances of helping the child diminishes greatly.
At a time when special education was the whipping boy of education reformers, the founders of CHIP Harbor had the courage to start a program that is already showing tangible results. Some of their children have already mainstreamed into regular schools. We wish them continued success.
©2003 Community News Group
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