October 30, 2007 Save Robo Calls for Emergencies
January 11, 2007 More, Faster Muni Info
October 17, 2006 Plea to Major News Outlets: Keep on the Local Track
December 14, 2004 Loss for Larchmont: Demise of The Times
October 14, 2004 Town & Village Websites Earns Pats, Needs Pushes
March 11, 2004 We Need Real Elections for Real Democracy
July 17, 2003 Larchmont Misses an Opportunity…
June 27, 2003 The Larchmont Gazette Is One Year Old: Thanks Larchmont!
June 18, 2003 Media Circus over Teen Drinking: Good or Bad for the Community?
April 24, 2003 Time to Get With the Program: Inform Citizens via Web and Email
March 27, 2003 Feeling Poor? We’re Rich in Volunteers.
February 13, 2003 Conservancy Has Right Idea: Ask Residents for Feedback on Flint Park Plans
January 24, 2003 Ground Rules for the Village Election
October 17 Read the transcript!
September 19 So, who did we vote for?
August 22 Tocci not ‘Going to the Candidates Debate’
August 14 Widening the Circle: Rosalyn Tobey & David Symes
August 1 Judging the Candidates, Judging the Media
July 11 Effective teamwork tames a fire
July 3 Local news in the local press: There’s never too much
June 26 Getting it right on Manor Inn
June 21 Larchmont needs an independent community web site
(October 30, 2007) Westchester County Executive Andy Spano calls us all the time. We’er always the first to know (along with every other county resident on his robo-call list) when the shredder mobile is coming to my town or when it’s time for Chemical Clean-up Day at Playland.
More accurately, we would be the first to know, if we hadn’t slammed the phone down before listening to the full message.
We now get so many calls from Mr. Spano – and from other politicians at the county, state and national level – that we usually hang up half a second into the call, when it’s clear there’s no real person at the other end of the line.
Today, we gave in and paid attention to Mr. Spano’s second call of the day – only to learn that he was soliciting our vote for a particular judicial candidate. This experience makes us twice as likely to ignore future calls from the county executive.
All of which makes me worry about what will happen in a true emergency. Will we – and the thousands of other exasperated county residents – just hang up and never learn about that hurricane, flood or fire that’s raging our way?
Reverse 9-1-1 dialing is a great idea that has been adopted by Village of Larchmont, Town of Mamaroneck and the Mamaroneck School District, along with Westchester County and other jurisdictions. But to be effective, it must be used sparingly.
You don’t use the fire alarm to call students to an assembly; our government leaders should not be using the phone equivalent of the alarm for non-emergency, trivial or political communication.
(January 18, 2007) Kudos to LMC-TV and particularly to Germán Cornejo for fulfilling a last minute request to videotape the Larchmont Village Planning Board meeting on January 8, 2007. The hall was packed with residents concerned about two multi-level apartment buildings proposed for North Avenue by Esposito Builders.
However, others interested in the topic may have missed the proceedings, perhaps because they were never notified. Mandatory notices only go to nearby neighbors (usually those within 250 feet) of a proposed development – and notices go out only once, no matter how many times the project appears before the boards or how much time has elapsed since the project was first considered.
Other interested residents could not attend because they were across the street at an equally packed Village Board meeting occurring at the same time. ( fields)
Among those unable to attend Monday’s Planning Board session were the Village Board liaisons. In fact liaisons are rarely able to appear because the two boards more often than not are meeting on the same night. This is an unfortunate – and easily avoidable problem.
In this case, anyone who missed the January 8 Planning Board meeting can catch up by requesting to view the LMC-TV tapes. ( See: Request TV)
But what should be done going forward?
For starters, the Planning Board should avoid meeting on the first or third Mondays of the month, the traditional dates for Village Board meetings. In turn, when they need to select an alternate date, the Village Board should avoid, whenever possible, choosing the Planning Board’s day.
In addition, the Planning Board (and other committees) should make it a practice to ask LMC-TV to video tape meetings when controversial or “high interest” items are on the agenda.
Further, all Planning and Zoning Board meetings should be recorded on high-quality audio tapes so recordings could be reproduced or streamed from the website for interested citizens. Most meetings are of interest to only a handful of residents – too few to justify the cost or trouble of videotaping them all. But it should not be that difficult to purchase and deploy better tape recorders and microphones. Webstreaming is another option that’s becoming easier and cheaper.
It would also be helpful if there were detailed written minutes of meetings available in a convenient and timely fashion to citizens and officials. Typically, it can take a month and often much longer before minutes are approved for release to the public.
Compare this to the City of Rye, whose website makes available recent and archived agendas and detailed minutes from the City Council, Planning Commission and Finance Committee. ( See: City of Rye.) Rye residents can even subscribe to receive agendas and minutes by email. Town of Mamaroneck residents also subscribe to get emailed agendas. (See: Town of Mamaroneck.)
What’s stopping Larchmont from following Rye and Mamaroneck’s lead? The technology has been in place since 1997 with the launching of Larchmont’s official website.
It’s now time for Village Hall to take action, specifically:
- require broader public notice (perhaps to all of Larchmont) for large-scale developments;
- audiotape public meetings and work with LMC-TV to make recordings available;
- require detailed minutes to be posted promptly online;
- allow residents to subscribe to email notifications; and, if needed,
- devote additional clerical resources to the above tasks.
When the Local Summit invited members of the media to its breakfast on Tuesday, October 17, what was and wasn’t said by representatives of the major news organizations was both telling and distressing to those of us who value local news.
The New York Times representative did not appear; he was called to a breaking story. Red hot news will always trump community liaison, but this is an organization that is traveling farther and farther away from covering our area, even in Sunday’s Westchester section. Previously devoted (mostly) to Westchester, itself a large and diverse geographic area, the edition has been infiltrated recently with items from a wide swath of suburbia that includes Bergen (New Jersey), Nassau (Long Island)and Fairfield (Connecticut) along with Rockland and Putnam.
There’s a limit to how far-flung a geographic area can be and still have real human beings relate to it as “our home.”
Generic columns about soccer moms or suburban dads are neither local nor newsy. A specific article about a Bergen County town is a turn-off; we don’t know enough about the personalities or the issues to care. When the concerns are similar to those in our community, it’s frustrating to not have the particulars of our situation included in what used to be “our section.”
If the New York Times has diluted our one local section per week, the Journal News has also gone watery. In 2004, it flushed its Friday insert edition for Larchmont and Mamaroneck. Our news appears in a daily section that is more regional than local – and the region keeps growing to include all of Westchester, then all of Putnam and Rockland, and now “LoHud” – the entire Lower Hudson Valley.
OK, we get Westchester. But no amount of marketing is going to get us thinking of ourselves as citizens of LoHud. That’s not even our body of water.
Attending the Local Summit’s breakfast was the Journal News “local” reporter, Candice Ferrete, now assigned to cover Larchmont and Mamaroneck plus Rye, Harrison, parts of Port Chester and parts of New Rochelle. With one reporter so stretched, no wonder we’re seeing more of what Larchmont Trustee Anne McAndrews called “blood and guts” police blotter items from Patterson or Carmel.
Also at the breakfast was Laurel Babcock, the Journal News community life editor, who introduced the brand new Sound Shore Express. For a minute there it looked like the Friday local insert was back. But no, we learned, the Express is only for people who do not subscribe to the Journal News. The content will include the week’s stories from Larchmont, Mamaroneck, New Rochelle, Port Chester and Rye, plus extra calendar items and stories submitted by local residents and organizations.
But what about subscribers who want the extra content?
It seems to us that the Journal News with its Sound Shore Express and the New York Times with its Sunday suburban edition are barreling down the wrong track, whizzing past thousands of formerly loyal readers. And just like the loss of local train service can devastate a small community, the shrinking of two big sources of local news is bad for local business, local government, and local civic life.
The Larchmont Gazette exists to supplement not supplant the larger news organizations. We need the “majors” to consider community needs, even as they search for new ways to remain competitive in the difficult business landscape they face.
There was a tiny glimmer of hope at the Local Summit breakfast.
Perhaps if the Journal News takes their Express concept and shares it with everyone – subscribers and nonsubscribers alike – it can provide a community-building vehicle for all (and more readers for its advertisers.) Apparently, we’re not the only ones questioning the distribution strategy. It’s possible that “editors on high” at the Journal News – and at the New York Times — might be moved by letters to the editor to keep traveling the local track.
We at the Larchmont Gazette are saddened by the decision by the Journal News to end publication of The Times, its local weekly edition devoted to Larchmont and Mamaroneck news. As we said back on July 3, 2002 in one of our first editorials, “Maybe we’re partial, but when it comes to Larchmont news, there’s never too much.” In our opinion, The Times never lived up to its potential – partially because it was starved for resources, partially because churning of reporters and editors left it with unsteady leadership and a lack of roots in the community to understand or care about what local residents want to read. This week’s decision is only the latest in a long string of decisions by the Gannett organization that has deprived local communities of authentic, high-quality local journalism.
For decades, the Gannett chain has been consolidating its local assets, remnants of independent daily papers that long ago lost their unique voices. Over time the organization also shed local offices, editors, reporters and columnists. To its credit, the Gannett’s Journal News has beefed up its county-wide coverage, which encourages residents to pay attention to county government and provides localities with valuable comparisons on local taxes, school test scores, and the like. However, its local coverage has plummeted: the bean counters in the corporate offices don’t seem to understand that people in Larchmont and Mamaroneck care about the minutiae of our own community, but have very little interest in even the larger stories from Carmel, Buchanan or any town of any size in Putnam County.
In a community as sophisticated as ours, with easy access to the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and hundreds of television, radio and online news sources, few residents rely on the Journal News for national, international, business, life style or arts and entertainment news. What subscribers are looking for is local news – and that has been reduced to one thin section in which Larchmont and Mamaroneck news barely appears. Coverage of our town, village and school boards and activities? Rare, unless there is a juicy scandal. Photos of local happenings? Infrequent. The only consistent local content comes from the obituaries – which bereaved families supply and pay for.
So what exactly have we lost with the end of The Times? We’ve lost another set of eyes and ears roaming Larchmont and Mamaroneck looking for people and events whose stories may be missed. Local businesses have lost another avenue to reaching their customers and a curb on the cost of local advertising. We’ve all lost an editorial board that was objectively following local political races and endorsing local candidates with (appropriately, in this case) an outsider’s unbiased view. And we’ve lost a competitor to other local media (the Gazette included) that always benefit from the sense (real or imagined) of having someone else racing to put out the best set of stories for the week.
We could hope that the demise of the dedicated local weekly will translate into more resources devoted to local coverage in the Journal News, but we can’t realistically predict that will happen. We could hope that the remaining local weekly and monthly publications will devote more resources to local coverage, but that also does not seem realistic. Increasingly, large parts of these papers have been turned over to articles and opinions that are generic or unrelated to our community, and that’s another kind of loss for Larchmont and Mamaroneck.
The only thing we can reliably predict is that we at the Larchmont Gazette will continue to be guided by our central mission of providing news for and about the residents in the 10538 zip code. As our readership has grown (from 5,900 visits per month in July, 2002 to over 36,000 in November, 2004) we are increasingly confident that this mission is right for us and valued by the community.
As publishers of a web-based news journal and developers of the Village of Larchmont’s official website, we are naturally interested in what our local governments are doing online. We check the sites regularly, report on progress, and occasionally editorialize when we think there’s a need for a pat – or a push – on the back.
Pat on the Back:
The Town of Mamaroneck deserves a pat for completing – after months of work – an update on their website that clearly lays out information citizens need and want. Directories, permits, forms, laws and regulations are all available at the click of a mouse along with basic background information on each department, committee and commission. Importantly, calendars for governmental meetings and recreational programs are regularly updated (for the most part), agendas are posted (usually) for the Board of Trustees and there are timely reports of board actions.
So what more could we want at the Town?
We’re still waiting for agendas from the other major boards and committees that govern planning, zoning, architectural review, traffic, coastal zone, parks and trees.
The open meeting law requires these groups to operate “in the sunshine” in full view of citizens. However, it is still too hard for citizens to be aware that an important meeting is occurring. Yes, we can use the online calendars to know when the meetings are being held – an important first step, but it’s still too hard to figure out what’s on the agenda and whether it’s worth our while to attend a particular meeting. Citizens should not need to call the Town or traipse over to the Town Center to read a bulletin board in order to learn what’s happening.
The information is already available – now the Town must make the very small extra effort needed to make it really available for use by anyone with access to the Internet at home or the library, which at this point is almost everyone in Mamaroneck.
Over at the Village of Larchmont, there are signs of life in the effort to update the official website, a process that has been stalled for over two years. Kudos go to Eileen Finn, the Village Clerk, and members of the Technology Committee, for obtaining a $37,000 state grant to fund the project. The money will allow the Village to contract with a private developer to redesign the site and to make it possible for citizens to apply for parking permits and pay for them by credit card online. (Unpaid volunteers, including the publishers of the Larchmont Gazette, had created and maintained the site under the previous administration.)
Now the “grant clock” is ticking and the board must pick up its pace to sign a contract with the developer selected by the tech group and to make a slew of decisions needed to allow the contractor to get going and get the site redone before a June 2005 deadline.
So, what more could we want at the Village?
The Village does not need to wait for the redesign or the web contractor to immediately start adding information to its online calendar. Last year, this year, next year – the system will remain the same: meeting dates and agendas will be added by the Village Clerk or other officially designated individuals. Currently most dates are in the online calendar but, with the exception of the Board of Trustees, the agendas are posted only on the bulletin board outside of Village Hall.
In 2004, this ancient system is just not a credible way for leaders who value open government to communicate with their constituents.
The Mayor and two Trustees are up for reelection in the Village of Larchmont on March 16 and all three are running unopposed. There has been almost no political activity beyond a few posters and the usual LMC-TV meet the candidate shows produced by the political parties. No rallies, no debates, almost no opportunities for voters to hear from the candidates at gatherings or on their doorsteps. This was true for the Town of Mamaroneck’s last election, when the incumbents ran unopposed for the Supervisor and two Council positions. The Mamaroneck School Board elections were uncontested in 2002 and 2003, and all indications are that this will be true again in 2004.
Contested elections can be expensive, divisive, and tend to scare off individuals who would otherwise be willing and able to serve. They distract the boards just when they’re putting together their budgets and making important decisions for the year.
The League of Women Voters has recommended lengthening the terms of office for village trustees to reduce the burden on the candidates and the community. Many find that a sensible approach, but it will take some time and effort to put into effect.
In the meantime, we should be making a good faith effort with the system we’ve got.
A de facto elimination of elections is not good for democracy or for the community.
We end up with a less-informed electorate, less interested in what is going on except for a few hot button issues. We voters become apathetic, ceding control over major decisions to small groups of partisans.
When nothing is at stake, can you blame the voters for forgetting to vote?
What do you think? Drop us a letter.
NOTE: The Editors, Paula Eisenberg and Judy Silberstein, were founding members of the Village website. Another founding member, Ned Benton, is married to Silberstein.
Larchmont’s Board of Trustees on July 14 voted down an offer from volunteers, including the editors of the Larchmont Gazette, to update the content and technology of the Village’s neglected and
languishing website — Larchmont Online. The idea for this limited rescue of the website was presented by members of the founding website committee, most of whom were dismissed by Mayor Bialo when he took office in 2002. The site has had little attention since then, and it is now an embarrassment to the Village and increasingly irrelevant to residents.
The current Technology Committee floated an RFP (Request for Proposal) last winter for professional consultants to redevelop and manage the site, and received two responses with first-year costs of about $6,000 and $30,000, both of which they rejected. Instead, they are redrafting the RFP in hopes that the next crop of proposals will be more practical and less expensive.
In the meantime, the Village website sits, virtually abandoned and outdated. For example…
It features the 2002 Recreation Booklet. It lists Mayor Cheryl Lewy as a Commissioner of the Garbage Commission. It links to the 2001 County Chemical Cleanup Program. The Annual Reports are from 1999 It cites Bill Keresey as the Chief of Police. The Water Confidence Report is from 1998. The Tax Chart is from 1996-1997. The Census Data is from 1990.
The core question that split the Board Monday night was whether to invite back the old committee to update the website as a temporary fix, while the new committee continues to pursue a new RFP and plans for the long-term.
We can see little risk and much potential benefit to the volunteers’ proposal to get the website back on its feet and install inexpensive new software to allow limited e-commerce, updating by Village employees, and improved calendar features. The cost to the Village will be less than $500 and the project will not conflict with the new RFP if it succeeds in attracting professionals to redesign the site.
But we doubt that the new committee’s idea of hiring consultants to redesign and manage the site will ever work. Proposals will either be prohibitively expensive, or they will involve canned McWebsites that do not reflect Larchmont’s character and style. And, while the committee and the Board struggle with the RFP, Larchmont’s current website will continue to molder.
Larchmont is rich in talented volunteers. They help to fight our fires, beautify our parks and streets, regulate our land use, organize our recreation programs, and pass our laws. Why not let them give new life to the website, at least as an interim step?
It was one year ago, on June 27, 2002, when Larchmont Gazette made its first official appearance on the Internet. The inaugural email alert announced: NEW “NEWSPAPER” FOR LARCHMONT – DELIVERED FREE OVER THE WEB, and the big scoop was “GOP Confirms Endorsing Dem Tocci for Assembly.”
Since then, we’ve e-mailed our subscribers once every week (with an extra mailing in May to alert everyone to a potentially rabid raccoon). And we’ve continued to follow local politics, news, features and history, posting articles throughout the week and making them available to the community 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Gazette went on from its first week to report on the Tocci-Bramson primary contest in September, the re-run in November, the Village of Larchmont Trustee races in March, and the Mamaroneck School Board and budget votes in May. All the candidates participated in the Gazette coverage, posting information on background and positions. Every member of the Town and Village Boards, with the exception of the Mayor of Larchmont, has agreed to be interviewed by the Gazette.
The number of readers keeps growing and they’re dipping deeper into the Gazette content. Last June there were 1,183 visits viewing 15,084 pages; by December there were 9,147 visitors who collectively viewed 29,741 pages; and in May 2003, the last full month for statistics, there were 13,299 visitors viewing 37,568 pages. Over the year, the Gazette has posted over 500 articles on local news, features, politics and history – and they’re all still on the site, accessible through the archives or local indices. If you need help finding an article, use the search function (upper right corner of each page).
The Gazette’s philosophy has not changed over the year. Then as now, we aim for objective, impartial reporting and we strive to keep opinions in their appropriate columns, features, or commentary sections. The number of contributing writers has grown to include Harriet Kline reporting regularly on the Town of Mamaroneck Board, plus a number of regular columnists: Val Estabrook with Dear Sis, Dr. Jaqueline Plumez with Career Doctor, Jim DiBuono with Pipeline, Diana Hechler with My Favorite Destinations, and Julian Block with his tax tips. In addition, there have been a number of occasional correspondents – community members speaking in their own voices about events they’ve witnessed or organizations they represent.
Our focus has continued to be the 10538 postal zone, including the Village of Larchmont and Town of Mamaroneck. Our friends in Mamaroneck Village keep asking us to expand their way. We’re still searching for confederates to cover the action on Mamaroneck Avenue – any takers out there?
Larchmont is an amazingly active, energetic community. We are constantly scrambling to report on all the important and interesting activities going on each week. There’s no way we can cover it all, but we keep trying anyway. That’s why we’re thrilled when new writers join us. This summer we’ll have (at least) two interns – MHS graduating senior Jonny Benton and rising junior Keira Rakoff.
As always, we welcome ideas, suggestions and even brickbats from our readers. The web is interactive, and so is the Gazette. That’s our great strength, and we urge you to give us your feedback. Let us know how you feel about local issues (write a letter to the editors, use our forums, submit a commentary column), send us your suggestions for news or features, or just tell us how we’re doing (feedback form).
Thank you for helping make our first year so memorable.
Editors of the Larchmont Gazette
Media Circus Over Teen Drinking: Good or Bad for the Community?
When ten eighth graders were suspended from Hommocks Middle School last week, who would have thought there would be so much media attention?
During the opening minutes of the graduation dance on June 6, one student walked into the dance inebriated and departed by ambulance almost immediately. Six others confessed to drinking varying amounts of alcohol – some so little that the Assistant Principals detected no alcohol odor on their breaths. Two others admitted to smoking pot. Another student confessed to having sold, but not consumed, beer.
By all journalistic standards this was not a dramatic story: there were no serious injuries (as was the case last year when 17 year-old Robert Viscome from Harrison died in an alcohol-related incident); there were no dramatic numbers as when 200 students were drunk at a Scarsdale homecoming dance). Underage drinking is hardly a novelty: a survey taken last year showed over 20% of eight graders nationwide admitted to drinking in the thirty days preceding the survey.
Yet a week later, on June 13, the story appeared on the front page of the Journal News and in the New York metropolitan media, including print, radio and television. By that afternoon, six camera crews were circling the community.
So what’s going on? And is this good or bad?
The bad news: It’s certainly an embarrassment to the Hommocks School in particular, and the Mamaroneck School District in general, to be featured throughout Westchester and the New York City metropolitan area in this way. Somehow, when an unusually large number of Hommocks students make it into the All-County orchestra, the regional media avoid splashing the news across page one.
Misleading or inaccurate headlines and text do not help. Many of the recent reports failed to draw a distinction between “drunk” (only one child was clearly intoxicated) and “had something to drink.” Some accounts also fudged on location, incorrectly placing the partying at the school or in Flint Park. That may not matter to the listeners in New Jersey, but it matters to the school and political leaders and to the police departments of the three municipalities who share responsibility for children in the Mamaroneck School District. Larchmont Board members are asking, “If it happened in Flint Park, why didn’t we know about it before the camera crews showed up on the soccer fields?”
The better news: Nevertheless, the hyperactive media may be doing our district and the regional community a favor by treating underage drinking as a serious problem deserving of intense scrutiny and attention. People are no longer saying, “Ho-hum, what’s news about kids trying a little hooch?”
Instead County Executive Andy Spano and District Attorney Jeanine Pirro are holding seminars, coming up with new laws, and focusing attention on drinking at the middle school, as well as the high school level. The publicity draws support for school and community-based efforts to rein-in teen drinking in Mamaroneck and elsewhere.
Before the news hit the stands, Principal Seth Weitzman had seized the opportunity to call the eighth grade together for a discussion of the serious medical and legal consequences of substance use and abuse. It was one of those “teachable moments” that drive home lessons better than any canned curriculum. The following media blitz can only have served to reinforce the message: drinking is a big deal, with big, negative impacts.
The media circus might impress Mamaroneck school district teens that adults here care about underage drinking. In last year’s survey, when compared to peers from comparable communities, our teens were more likely to believe that adults tolerate adolescent alcohol use. Even if that impression were correct, the accompanying hoopla over the event might serve to decrease tolerance among parents who have been overlooking or even abetting teen drinking.
The bottom line: Inaccurate, overblown journalism is a disservice to subjects and readers of a story – even if some good comes of it. And of course, parents shouldn’t wait for a high-profile incident to prompt them into talking to their kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
Time to Get With the Program:
Inform Citizens via Web and Email
Officials are searching for new, fair, efficient and effective ways to communicate with local residents. Can we do better than the usual fliers tacked to a bulletin board or announcements published in tiny print in an obscure section of the Journal News?
We think it’s time for our local governments to “get with the program” and make better use of new technologies, particularly the web and email.
What to do?
- Right off, the Town and Village should announce all public meetings (with complete agendas) in their online calendars.
- Next, they should make greater use of those computerized calendars. The two governments should cooperate to post a combined calendar that displays any meeting going on in either the Town or Village. While they are at it, they should invite the Village of Mamaroneck and the Mamaroneck School District to participate in an integrated calendar system. New software makes this relatively cheap and easy.
- In addition, the Town and Village should encourage residents to request email notification of meetings – all meetings or only those on specific topics. Inexpensive, automated mailing programs can handle the process. Online calendars like those already used by the schools and Larchmont Village include this feature.
Town Councilman Ernie Odierna deserves a pat on the back for prodding the community towards more creative solutions involving both old-fashioned and 21st century tools.
But Supervisor Valerie O’Keeffe is also right to worry about citizens who are not yet cruising the information highway. There are fewer and fewer “unconnected” people, but they cannot be left out of the information loop.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to keep computers locked in the toolbox until 100% of the populace is on the Net. Organizations – including governments – reach a point where email becomes the default medium and postal mail, fax, news announcements, bulletin boards and signs become the backup methods. We think that, in our Town and Village, we’ve reached that point.
Already 100% of the community has access to online information at home or at our public libraries. Already 100% of the community can receive email. Even the poorest citizen can obtain a free account from services like Hotmail and Yahoo. The libraries offer free lessons and support for residents requiring assistance.
Change always requires new effort. Moving from a fax or postal mail system to an email process may require new software, set-up and retraining. It will take a while to gather email addresses from individuals currently receiving notices by mail. In the short-run, there will be double work to send notices by both old and new means. In the long-run, it will take less time, effort and money to get the job done.
Most importantly, it would be as easy to email all residents as it would to reach a few. Encouraging greater use of email is the cheapest, most effective, and fairest approach to informing citizens of local government activity.
Feeling Poor? We’re Rich in Volunteers
We shouldn’t be expecting new programs or services in our local schools, villages or towns – what with budgets so tight in a difficult financial year. Yet, thanks to our community’s ever-growing volunteer force, services will continue to expand beyond those funded by beleaguered taxpayers.
On Larchmont Avenue, the Village Board will be hunkering over its budget documents in the next few weeks, preparing to get a final budget out before the April 30 deadline. Down the Post Road, the Mamaroneck School Board will be doing the same, preparing to place its own budget before the voters on May 20. Both Boards are struggling with massive increases in items over which they have very little control, like pension and insurance costs. In addition, the School Board must handle an increase in student enrollment that goes up with every new projection. Both Boards are attempting to hold the line on services – at least those supported by taxes.
Yet even in these difficult financial times, our schools will be benefiting from the thousands of volunteer hours contributed by the Board, Planning Councils and PTA’s. The list of PTA committees, chairpersons and representatives is starting to outgrow its allotted space in the schools’ calendar as parents launch new initiatives and bolster long-running programs in the arts, literature, parent education, gender issues, and traditional school support activities. The Mamaroneck Schools Foundation, an independent organization, is giving away thousands of dollars this year for innovative programs in every school. The cupcakes are still being baked, but volunteers are providing much more complex, professional-level assistance in a variety of areas.
Over in the Village, the Board has vowed not to cut services in this year’s budget. But, in effect, villagers are already benefiting from boosts in services made possible by the growing cadre of volunteers. For example, there are newly enlisted volunteer firefighters and members of newly constituted committees on the environment and open space. It would cost millions to hire the services of these firefighters, administrators, lawyers, engineers, planners, budgeters, ecologists, and other professionals who donate their time to community service.
No matter how poor we’re feeling as we scour the stock market reports, in this community, we should all feel very rich and enriched by the benefits we receive from our volunteers.
Conservancy Has Right Idea: Ask Residents for Feedback on Flint Park Plans
Kudos to the Flint Park Conservancy for its diligence in soliciting community feedback for proposed changes to Flint Park.
For months, the Village consultants from the firm of Eberlin and Eberlin have been working on designs based on input from a subset of Flint Park users: representatives from the Little Leagues, Soccer Leagues, Recreation Committee, Parks and Trees Committee, and Flint Park Conservancy were invited to offer the initial ideas behind the Eberlin design and now to critique the resulting proposal.
The Conservancy was charged with gathering feedback from its members so it could report back to the consultant at the end of this month. Thankfully, the group chose to widen its mission by encouraging any and all residents to view the plans and submit comments via a form posted on the Gazette or available from the Conservancy leadership. Organizations and residents who so far have been left out of the process are being encouraged to add their voices before the Village spends any more time and money on consultant fees or architectural drawings.
Interestingly, down the Post Road in the Village of Mamaroneck, residents are involved in a similar exercise to rethink their major public park at Harbor Island. In that friendly village, the planning process has energetically solicited input from a wide swath of the community via widely publicized “visioning” sessions, on-camera presentations at Board meetings, and press releases to the media.
All are invited: athletes, environmentalists, and even adults and children unaffiliated with any organization. Furthermore, in recognition that the schools and neighboring communities rely on Harbor Island facilities, the Village of Mamaroneck is listening to voices from its neighbors in the Town of Mamaroneck, Village of Larchmont, and Rye Neck and Mamaroneck school districts.
Getting early input will maximize chances that the consultants’ plans will be responsive to the entire community. It’s a bit late for the Village of Larchmont, but there’s still time to open up the process before the next phase of the planning. The Conservancy’s inclusive approach provides an admirable, if modest model.
Time for Another Village Election: Gazette Ground Rules
The Village of Larchmont political races are off to an early start this year, and at the Larchmont Gazette we’re preparing our political pages and policies.
What are we trying to do?
Our goal is to offer balanced, fair, and timely coverage of the campaigns. As we did during the November elections, we will be providing each candidate a space to post pictures, platforms, press releases and other campaign communications. The voters will also have ample space to voice their views.
Another goal is to increase communication and lower costs. Each year, campaign costs continue to creep upward, even in the tiny Village of Larchmont. In the 2002 election where about 1900 votes were cast, the Republicans and Democrats each spent well over $20,000.
The last thing the Gazette wants to do is add to those costs. We will offer something new for us – political advertisements. And the price will be just right – free.
What are we asking the candidates to do?
During the campaign, we will be posting questions for the Trustee candidates. Like on “Jeopardy,” the early questions will be easy: What are your qualifications? Why are you running? Later queries may be more challenging; we will be working with the candidates to develop some meaty questions.
The candidates are asked to provide timely, succinct responses.
What are we asking the voters to do?
Spread the Word. The success of the Gazette political pages depends on widespread distribution among the voters. The Gazette already reaches a wide swath of Larchmont voters, but we’re relying on you, our readers, to help us reach the rest. We encourage everyone to sign-up for a free subscription to the Gazette’s weekly e-mail update. You’ll get the headlines and a reminder to check-in on what’s new.
Write Us. We’re also asking the voters to weigh-in with opinions and questions. We will publish as many letters as we receive in Letters to the Editors.
October 17, 2002
Read the transcript!
Thanks to the generosity of WVOX Radio and the graciousness of the Bramson and Tocci campaigns, voters in the 91st Assembly district have a new resource for informing their votes: transcripts of the WVOX radio debates. Reading the transcript is the next best thing to attending, viewing or listening to the debate, which is the next best thing to questioning the candidates yourself and a whole lot better than relying on a news article of the event.
By this point in the election cycle, voters may have already received numerous campaign flyers that provide short, glossy versions of a candidate’s view: both candidates seem to like children, schools, the environment, health care and other worthy causes. Each accuses the other of not caring enough about one issue or the other. Larchmont Gazette has provided space for each candidate to post lengthier press releases on the issues. Though valuable, the candidates’ releases do not always speak directly to each other’s points. A debate puts the two in a room and requires each to make his best case to us voters, so we can decide who has the more credible position on the issues we care about.
Most voters understand the value of political debates, but only a fraction attends the live event. Many of us rely on a news report, but even a lengthy article often reveals more about the reporter’s views than those of the candidates. Unless you’re planning on taking the reporter into the voting booth with you, it’s always a good idea to get your info first-hand. We’re always lucky when LMC-TV covers an event because they will rebroadcast it on demand. Even so, only part of the electorate takes the hour or so necessary to view the entire debate. Now comes the transcript, which can be skimmed, or even studied, in far less time. There are no more excuses for remaining ignorant.
At 7:30 pm on Tuesday, October 29, the Larchmont-Mamaroneck League of Women Voters will be hosting a candidates’ forum at the Village of Mamaroneck Courtroom. We encourage all voters to attend – nothing beats seeing the candidates in action. But if you can’t make it, or if you want to get another look at the candidates’ answers, we’ll be once again making the transcripts available. See them at the debate – and read them online.
September 19, 2002
So, who did we vote for?
How do you prefer your news media? Blatantly biased? Slyly prejudiced? Earnestly, if imperfectly, impartial?
We ran across a curious phenomenon yesterday. Two of our regular readers from opposite ends of the demographic spectrum confronted us and asked, “So, who did you support in the Tocci-Bramson race?”
“Yes!” we proclaimed, with fist raised in the victory signal. “We’ve done it; we’ve managed to report on a heated political battle without injecting our own opinions!”
“That’s victory?” one responded, “I’d rather know where you’re coming from, so I can read between the lines.”
“Right,” concurred the other, “Like when I read the New York Times, I expect them to dump on Bush; when I watch Fox News, I expect rah, rah for the administration.”
“But where do you go for the facts?” we asked, stunned by this approach to news consumption.
“I just sort it out for myself,” one answered.
We suppose this sort of savvy news consumerism is necessary. Many of the major media outlets have given up “straight” reporting for “news with attitude” even for major news stories. Depending on the source, Saddam Hussein is “very close,” “close,” or “not close at all” to having nuclear weapons at his disposal. In a given political race, depending on the source, one candidate is “critical of the other’s positions” or “engaging in character assassination.” It is important to listen to a variety of voices, read between the lines, and make informed guesses to arrive at a likely “truth” of a particular situation.
Nevertheless, we suspect most Larchmonters do not have the time, energy or resources to investigate most local issues for themselves. That’s why they turn to local media. As consumers of local media ourselves, we appreciate balanced presentations of issues and “unadulterated” facts, and we deplore opinions disguised as front-page news. That’s why we attempt to cover each new story with an open mind, and to report what we learn, not what we already believe.
So, as writers, we’ll continue with our “earnest, if imperfectly impartial approach” to covering controversial issues. When we slip up, we expect to hear from the side we’ve offended. When we succeed, we’ll probably hear from the curious who will ask us, “Really, who did you vote for?”
August 22, 2002
Tocci Not ‘Going to the Candidates Debate’
Larchmont Gazette supports the institution of political debate. We’re hardly alone.
Academics laud political debate: “The public debate is one of the great traditions in American life. It provides for a forensic confrontation by those holding divergent views, an orderly and comprehensive review of the arguments for and against a specific proposal before minds are made up and votes are cast.” (See J. Jeffery Auer in The Great Debates)
Statesmen support political debate: “Abraham Lincoln regularly walked seven miles from New Salem to take part in the debates of a small village society,” reports Auer.
Even pop musicians recognize the debate as an American icon: “Going to the candidates debate. Laugh about it shout about it when you’ve got to choose,” sing Simon and Garfunkel.
We are disappointed, then, that Assemblyman Ron Tocci has declined to participate in the League of Women Voters debate originally scheduled for September 3, the week before the Democratic Primary in which voters will be choosing between Tocci and New Rochelle Councilman Noam Bramson.
We can understand Tocci’s dismay at Bramson’s attacks on his political and legislative record. It’s been 16 years since Tocci faced serious opposition in an Assembly race. However, a review of Larchmont Gazette’s political page shows Tocci has given as good as he’s got. In fact, it’s been dueling press releases all summer-long.
Nevertheless, carefully crafted press releases are poor substitutes for live debates. Voters deserve to judge candidates based on their own words and their ability to promote and defend their points of view. Tocci claims his record has been misrepresented; the debate is the ideal venue for him to offer his own presentation and to correct any errors he perceives. The antidote to “wrong” speech is more speech, not less.
We’re disappointed in Mr. Tocci’s decision. The League is disappointed in his decision. It remains to be seen if the voters are disappointed, too.
What do you think?
August 14, 2002
Widening the Larchmont Circle:
Rosalyn Tobey and David Symes
Larchmont isn’t a very large place, but even here we tend to narrow our circle to a relative few acquaintances of similar ages and similar backgrounds. But for hundreds of us in Larchmont, Rosalyn Tobey and David Symes widened the circles and created extended families where children and adults found both the comforts of closeness and the freedom to grow beyond.
Rosalyn taught piano and David coached soccer. What unites them, other than their untimely deaths, was the way each broadened our sense of competence and community.
You came to Rosalyn’s home for a piano lesson, and you were the favored child for an hour. Like a grandmother, she would radiate unconditional love, even as she corrected your fingering and encouraged greater effort. Students left feeling they could conquer a difficult composition and take on the next challenge, musical or otherwise. At her annual Father’s Day recital, you’d meet students, siblings, parents and grandparents crammed into her studio for a musical family reunion.
Coach Symes had a similar impact. He didn’t yell. If you made a mistake, he’d quietly discuss it at half-time or after the game. He’d travel long distances with his team, or show up on Long Island or Delaware to watch “his players,” long after they’d graduated from his teams. Under his tutelage, “his children” gained confidence as athletes and fledging adults. Through David’s teams, players and parents forged bonds that continue even as individuals move to California or Japan.
On August 10, David’s family – hundreds of players and parents, relations and coaching colleagues from all over the county – gathered at Butler Methodist Church in the Bronx to celebrate the life of Coach Symes. On August 14, Rosalyn’s family – hundreds of students and their parents, relations and colleagues, music lovers of all ages and talents – gathered at the Emelin Theatre for a last recital and remembrance.. These large gatherings underscore how wide a community David and Rosalyn created.
It is fitting that David and Rosalyn’s extended families are establishing scholarships in their names to support students who might otherwise be excluded from soccer or music because of financial limitations. The circles continue to widen.
August 1, 2002
Judging the Candidates, Judging the Media
There’s not much time left before September 10, Primary Election Day for Democrats Ron Tocci and Noam Bramson who are competing for the 91st District Assembly seat. As the campaign heats up, the candidates produce a torrent of press releases, mailers, and advertisements.
How should the local media handle the flood? Promptly, objectively and fairly.
Voters deserve to hear about events as they happen, not weeks later. They deserve a straightforward accounting, free of media spin, bias or opinion. And they deserve a view from both sides in the contest so they can judge which candidate to support.
Here’s what we’re doing at Larchmont Gazette.
As a website, we’re blessed with unlimited space and few production constraints, so we post all campaign communiqués related to Larchmont in a section clearly labeled as coming from the candidates. To balance speed and fairness, each side has a limited opportunity to provide commentary on an issue before we publish a press release.
We recognize, however, that inundating readers with unedited press releases may not be the best approach to educating the citizenry. So for each issue or event, we provide a summary report – a brief, straightforward accounting.
So how are we doing at Larchmont Gazette? How about the Gannett’s Journal News and The Times? The Sound & Town Report? The Sound Shore News? Or The Larchmont Ledger?
Readers can judge for themselves. In Larchmont Gazette, you’ll find all the press releases and their release dates so you can judge our reporting and that of the other media. Are we giving you all the news? On time? Unbiased? Do you see both sides of an issue at once?
What do you think?
July 11, 2002
Effective teamwork tames a fire
A fire is always a tragedy, and we extend our sympathies to everyone affected by the fire on Prospect Avenue last Tuesday.
We have to be heartened, however, by the organization and teamwork exhibited by Larchmont’s and Mamaroneck’s emergency services organizations.
They quickly positioned and staffed ten pieces of apparatus at the scene and on standby, including ladders, pumpers, ambulances, police cars, and rescue rigs. Here are some points we noticed.
The fire began in the late afternoon, a time when many volunteers are still at work outside the area. Yet more than 30 firefighters converged at the scene, and more were standing by from other Departments should Fire Chief Payne have needed them.
Larchmont’s career firefighters, stationed at Village Hall, responded to the scene in minutes.
Larchmont’s Tower Ladder 7, key to Larchmont’s strategy for fire suppression, was out of service for repairs. Based on mutual aid agreements with the Town and Village of Mamaroneck, the Town’s Ladder 19 was moved into position, and Mamaroneck Village’s Ladder 20 appeared on the scene in case it was needed. Firefighters from Larchmont and the Town of Mamaroneck worked side-by-side, as envisioned in their joint training and planning.
The Village of Mamaroneck deployed two rigs to Larchmont’s Firehouse, in case another fire in Larchmont required a response.
The Larchmont Volunteer Ambulance Corps deployed two ambulances with paramedics and emergency technicians. While there were no major injuries, several firefighters needed assistance due to the heat and exertion.
The Larchmont Police were at the scene handling traffic and maintaining the boundaries of the fire scene.
Neighbors also responded, providing assistance to the family’s bewildered pet dog.
There are some who wonder whether the time for the volunteer fire and ambulance service has come and gone. Should the community reach into its collective pocketbook to replace the volunteers with paid professionals? If the Prospect Avenue fire is any example, the community is well-served by counting on all its trained emergency responders working side-by side: younger and older, men and women, career and volunteer.
A fire is always a tragedy, but Larchmont can be reassured by the strength, teamwork and dedication of our emergency service organizations and their career and volunteer members.
July 3, 2002
Local news in the local press: There’s never too much
Kudos to The Sound & Town Report and The Times for increasing their local coverage in recent editions and to The Larchmont Ledger for staying true to its local mission. Each paper advertises its aim to serve Larchmont and Mamaroneck, and this June they have lived up to this claim.
A local focus is critical, first because we rely on the local media to tell us what’s happening here in Larchmont – not in Mohegan Lake, Purchase, Port Chester, Pelham or Rye. We have other sources for Westchester news, notably the Gannett’s Journal News that covers the region.
The local focus is critical.
The local focus is critical also, for maintaining a strong readership. When everyone – or a good percentage of everyone – reads the paper, it becomes a powerful vehicle for reaching and uniting the community. When we read about the walk-a-thon for Friends in Need, the Chatsworth carnival, or a board meeting on regulating McMansions, we show up.
For a while, we were alarmed to find “aliens” taking over the two weeklies: editorials on Jerry Lewis , “man on the street” interviews from White Plains, school news from Blind Brook. “Our” reporters were roaming far afield, ignoring their hometowns. That’s no way to keep Larchmont residents reaching for the paper each Friday.
It’s a relief to see the weeklies back on course, with more Larchmont news, features and columns than ever. We at the Larchmont Gazette intend to supplement the local print media in ways unique to a web-based journal, such as our instant advisory on the storm-related beach closings or our interactive community forums on everything from politics to gardening tips.
Maybe we’re partial, but when it comes to Larchmont news, there’s never too much.
June 26, 2002
Getting it right on Manor Inn
We commend the Larchmont Village Board, led by Mayor Bialo, for a constructive approach to the Manor Inn controversy. The Board is sending a consistent message to the property owners, the neighbors, and the historic preservationists — dialogue and compromise will achieve the best result.
While at this point the Board need not take a position or make a decision on the fate of the Manor Inn, they can set the tone for everyone involved.
The challenge for the community is to reconcile a number of valid points of view.
The owners want to sell their property for the highest price, and if they need a zoning variance to accomplish this, they want to be treated fairly by the Village’s land use boards. However, the aim of the land use boards is to protect the value of everyone’s property, which may require limiting what any particular owner may do.
The immediate neighbors want to maintain the residential character of their neighborhood, and avoid development that creates traffic and parking congestion. However, each neighborhood in Larchmont carries some sort of burden for the rest of the community. For example, neighbors are inconvenienced by congestion and activity associated with being near parks, religious facilities, beaches, schools, parking lots or businesses. However, when properly planned, such mixed land use promotes the character, vitality and convenience that is the essence of our village.
The historic preservationists have joined forces with a group promoting both affordable housing and housing for seniors. They want to maintain the last of Larchmont’s resort hotels as a senior residence, because it connects our community to our history. However, the Manor Inn today is not the Belvedere Hotel of 1883. Preserving the Inn as it is today preserves only a small portion of the history we value. A respectful restoration of the old hotel would require a major investment, but might still be possible. A literal restoration would be neither economical nor responsive to the needs of seniors.
A series of ideas have been suggested that respond in varying degrees to each of these positions – a single large home, two homes on a subdivided site, a bed-and-breakfast hotel, a condominium with off-street parking in the basement, and an assisted-living facility for seniors. One of these options will go forward, either by right or by compromise.
The Board is correct to promote dialogue and compromise. With sufficient discussion and cooperation, it should be possible to find a solution amenable to the owners, neighbors, and preservationists.
Do you agree? Did we miss an important point? Is there an issue we did not consider? No need to mail a letter! Join our forum above and let us – and the residents of Larchmont -know what you think.
Larchmont Needs an Independent Community Web Site
Our first editorial answers the question many residents ask when they hear about Larchmont Gazette: Does Larchmont need another news outlet?
Now served by three weekly papers, one monthly and one daily, Larchmont does not lack for print coverage. However, because Larchmont Gazette is published on the Internet rather than on paper, we can fill a gap and offer these additional advantages:
The Gazette is Interactive: We encourage reader response in traditional ways, such as Letters to the Editor, and with new services such as interactive forums where residents speak to one another unfiltered by editors in New Rochelle or White Plains. The Gazette is Responsive: We can publish your Letters to the Editor or a feature article almost immediately, while the issue is still fresh. A letter can become stale if it takes two weeks or more to make the paper. Furthermore, with no artificial space or cost constraints, we will never have to crop a letter or article to fit into a page layout.
We are Convenient: You know where to find Larchmont Gazette, and our archived content will be just as easy to retrieve as our current articles.
The Gazette is Free: We are publishing this online journal as a service to the community and everyone working on the Gazette is a volunteer. Our classified ads and web-based calendars are also free to Larchmont residents and organizations.
And, the Gazette provides Genuine Local Coverage: Unlike the five newspapers, Larchmont Gazette is produced in Larchmont, for and by residents of Larchmont.
The Village and Town web sites are also free, internet-based valuable resources for Larchmont. However, because they are official government publications they are very limited in what they cover. They cannot offer open forums or host content on behalf of private, political or commercial groups. Larchmont Gazette has very few limitations of this sort.
We hope that Larchmont Gazette will be particularly valuable as a non-partisan resource during local political campaigns. We will offer each candidate free space for biographical information, statements, endorsements, advertisements and other campaign materials. These free services may help counteract the rising cost of local campaigns, and provide voters with a balanced and convenient way to evaluate the candidates and make informed political choices.