EDITORIAL: What’s Earth got to do with it

THERE’S BEEN A PROBLEM with the toilet in our office. For a few days last week it wouldn’t flush. Using the plunger didn’t improve the situation. It’s happened before. Visiting nature isn’t an option, either. We’re located in what you could call an exposed property, no woods nearby. You get the picture.

There’s no mystery about our problem. Any plumber can explain that after a heavy rain the water table in our neighborhood sometimes rises so high that there’s nowhere for the water in the toilet to go. A few dry days and the system is back in service.

We see the impact of floods on the landscape when what’s left of a hurricane or the rare tornado swoops by. Those kinds of weather events may become more frequent as the influence of our mistreatment of the air, land and water rearranges our climate in ways we we can’t yet imagine. But being human, most of us aren’t going to get worked up for too long about the big events. It’s the small annoyances that spur us to action. Read more…

EDITORIAL: Who’s a journalist?

LONG AGO I USED TO DO something like what “David” did in Ancram. I didn’t wear a mask back then, but I had long hair, scruffy clothes and what was then a “small” portable video camera. David’s black hoodie was topped by a black cowl, leaving only his eyes and forehead exposed. Even by my lax standards, that’s a creepy costume.

David showed up unannounced at Ancram Town Hall around noon on March 17. His phone was set to record video, which he did for about half an hour. The first person he encountered and recorded was Town Clerk Monica Cleveland, who helped him obtain a copy of the town budget. He narrates what he sees as he flips through the document. It appears he’s familiar with municipal budget spreadsheets.

He remarks on the unlit Town Hall corridor. He asks the empty space where the people are. He turns back toward the main entrance to the building and Town Supervisor Art Bassin stands there. The supervisor asks David his name, which David repeats several times. No last name.

You can read about the encounter in Diane Valden’s story online at:


or read it in our March 31 issue (“That’s who that masked man was?” Page 1). Or watch it for yourself on YouTube. Read more…

EDITORIAL: What’s Plan B?

YOU GOTTA HAVE IT even if you think you might already have a couple of them lying around. The “you” in this case are towns and villages, which must have a Comprehensive Plan that residents and business owners help write. But that’s not all.

Once your town or village has a plan you have to be sure that your town’s land use rules and regulations (planning and zoning laws, mostly) abide by the goals of the plan. And you have to update your Comprehensive Plan every 15 years, approximately. That’s what the state says.

The Town of Chatham was in the process of updating its plan when the pandemic interrupted the process. Now the town is trying to complete the process, starting with a community survey. The survey results are available online (See Page 1, this issue.) The survey had a response rate of 39%, though it’s hard to tell what response means in terms of overall support for a new plan. That’s because the current plan, adopted in 2009, was never followed by the requirement to update zoning changes so that the laws matched the goals in the 2009 plan. Read more…

EDITORIAL: Who needs a budget?

IT’S TAX SEASON ONCE MORE. But even though taxes get our attention, it takes planning for anyone to spend so much of our money. And what we’re actually experiencing (… ignoring?) is Budget Season for the county’s six public school districts, four villages and the State of New York. All of those levels of government are currently crafting their annual budget proposals for their 2022-23 fiscal year.

School districts are awaiting a final state budget, because that assures them of the amount of state aid they will receive, which adds up to a significant part of their annual spending. School districts affect almost everyone in the communities they serve. In addition to teachers and students and all sorts of staff members, school taxes are the largest local levy most property owners pay each year.

The state constitution requires that the governor and the state legislature agree on a state budget before April 1. (Negotiations used to drag on for months, but whatever you might think of him, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budgets met the deadline.) What makes this season a little different is that the state has plenty of money but still lacks a consensus among the Democrats—who control both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office—on how best to spend all the money they have. Read more…

EDITORIAL: What’s next?

AS FAR AS THE HEADLINES are concerned, Covid–19 gets old news treatment these days. Russia’s war on Ukraine deserves the attention it receives. And the rates have gone down in most of the U.S. Maybe what we need is news of a vaccine to slow the spread of Vladimir Putin.

Short of that unlikely occurrence, we’ll settle for the facts that the Covid-19 pandemic appears to be waning here. Masks are coming off. The state requirements were recently lifted and this week’s sudden return of warm air was a powerful temptation to unmask and relax even among those of us at higher risk.

Jack Mabb, the director of the Columbia County Department of Health, whose department is coordinating the local Covid-19 public health response, says the lower infection rate could mark a transition from a raging pandemic to an endemic illness—one that’s among us but does not dominate our lives—a treatable malady. Read more…