Times Union Watch: A Question of Ethics

This is an image from Wendy Liberatore’s twitter account. The text of her most recent tweet reads:

Tonight #Saratoga City Council promised not to wreck the neighborhoods of those living along Loughberry Lake and near Railroad Run. Officials won’t make that promise to the residents near Saratoga Hospital

It also offers her bio as:

Saratoga County Reporter @TimesUnion, Dance fanatic, family cook, star gazer, timesunion.net blogger, Opinions expressed are mine.

Ms. Liberatore’s tweet is referring to what occurred at the City Council public hearing on the proposed zoning map that will be part of the Unified Development Ordinance. The hearing was held on December 3rd at the temporary city offices at the Rec Center.

So lets parse this out. Ms. Liberatore characterized the City Council as having promised not to “wreck” the neighborhoods near Railroad Run and the banks of the city’s reservoir, Loughberry Lake. According to her tweet, the City Council declined to make that promise to the neighbors of Saratoga Hospital. Therefore, according to Ms. Liberatore, if the members of the City Council approve the rezoning as stipulated in the city’s Comprehensive Plan, they would be wrecking the neighborhood adjacent the Hospital.

The 3 Parcels

Among the responsibilities of the consultants hired to come up with a Unified Development Ordinance for the city, was the crafting of a zoning map that would be consistent with the city’s most recent Comprehensive Plan. The City Council requested an advisory opinion from the city’s Planning Board regarding the map.

The consultants, for some unknown reason, had designated the Railroad Run area as T4. T4 stands for Urban Neighborhood and is one of the most intensive land uses allowed under our zoning codes. The Planning Board found that the designation in the map for the Railroad Run area of T4 was inconsistent with what the Comprehensive Plan called for for the area. (It is quite troubling that the consultants made such an error). The Planning Board recommended, and the City Council approved, a more residential category for the area (“Urban Residential”). The neighbors who attended the meeting feared that the area was still to be T4. The map showing the proposed zoning was projected on the wall and the Mayor advised the neighbors that the change to Urban Residential had been instituted and that a careful examination of the map on the wall affirmed the change.

The controversy regarding Loughberry Lake had to do with a narrow strip of land that separates Loughberry Lake from the homes along its banks. This strip had been zoned residential. The new zoning would be Institutional Recreational.

The neighbors were alarmed for many reasons. The strip of land abuts their homes. They felt the new zoning would potentially compromise their privacy. They also pointed out that the land is mostly made up of a very steep bank. People accessing this area would be at serious risk of tumbling into Loughberry Lake.

The City Attorney explained that the city, which owns the land, had absolutely no plans to develop this land for recreation. The reason it was changed was that the current designation is residential. It simply made no sense to designate the land as residential. The Institutional Parkland/Recreational zoning made more sense. He noted that the city was not bound by zoning laws on land it owns so the zoning definition issue is in many ways mute. Whatever the designation of the land, it was subject to the will of the Council. The important thing was that the city had no intention of developing the land which forms a buffer for the reservoir.

As regards the rezoning of the land adjacent to Saratoga Hospital as Office Medical Building 1 (OMB-1), the members of the Council did not respond to the comments of the public both for and against the proposed change in zoning.

What Are The Standards A Reporter Should Maintain?

I do not subscribe to the myth of “objectivity.” A reporter must select what information to share with readers from an event they cover. In doing so the reporter makes a judgement as to what information is most important. What they select will color the story.

I believe that most people who become reporters care deeply about civil society, and it makes no sense to expect them to be indifferent observers. What we should be able to expect, though, is that they make every effort to both fairly reflect the events they are reporting on while placing these events in some sort of context.

Maintaining Credibility

Ms. Liberatore, in her bio for her tweeter account, both identifies herself as a reporter covering Saratoga for the Times Union and asserts that the opinions offered in her tweets are hers alone.

The reality is that her role as reporting on Saratoga is not easily separated from any public opinions she may offer. The significance of this is reflected in the fact that the attorney representing the neighbors of the Hospital retweeted her message.

A reporter has a right to have opinions on the events they cover but at what point does publicly expressing these opinions undermine their credibility to fairly cover the news?

In the case of her tweet, Ms. Liberatore’s observation seems to me to be problematic. It would have been accurate and reasonable for her to observe that the members of the City Council conspicuously offered no opinion on the controversy about the rezoning of the land owned by Saratoga Hospital.

Unfortunately, Ms. Liberatore’s observation characterized the decision of whether or not to approve the zoning change as whether or not to “wreck” the adjoining neighborhood. I do not think it unreasonable to characterize this as a highly prejudicial statement. While it very much reflects the perspective of the neighbors, it is obviously at odds not only with the Hospital’s view but the view of many other parties in the community.

The city’s Planning Board will have the authority to oversee the design of the Hospital’s project in terms of its impact on the neighbors. There is little doubt that minimizing the impact on the adjacent neighborhood will be challenging. The area already suffers from problems of water run off, and the construction of a large building and attendant parking lot will need to be designed to address how the run off from these new structures is managed. There will be issues also of managing the traffic that the project will generate along with the lighting required to make the lot and building safe.

The good news for me is that the current Planning Board’s make-up is profoundly different from the past. This body used to be dominated by the real estate interests in the city. Some of the appointments of past mayor, Joanne Yepsen, and all of the appointments of our current mayor, Meg Kelly, have very much changed the character of this important land use board. Its chair, Mark Torpey, is someone I personally trust. He is both scrupulously thorough and sympathetic to all the parties involved in cases like the proposed Hospital project.

To assume, as Ms. Liberatore apparently does, that the project would “wreck” the area neighborhoods seems wildly irresponsible.

Undermining A Reporter’s Role

One must ask, what impact will her tweet have on Saratoga Hospital’s dealings with her? Quite a number of public figures no longer take Ms. Liberatore’s calls. They have experienced what they view as unfair and manipulative coverage. I expect the Hospital will continue to be available to her. Still, one can only expect that their willingness to be candid and open with her will not be helped by her tweet.

A Failure of Oversight

Having dealt with reporters for decades I simply cannot recall any of them that would have made a public announcement like Ms. Liberatore’s tweet. This is not only because of the quality of these reporters but because their editors would have taken grave exception.

Unfortunately this is not the case with the Times Union. In my experience they have rarely been willing to correct inaccuracies in her stories and when they have it has only been the most egregious ones. The reality is that Ms. Liberatore’s editors have her back and that this community will simply have to live for the foreseeable future with this failure in journalism.

27 thoughts on “Times Union Watch: A Question of Ethics”

  1. John, Ms Liberatore’s comment is right on target. She doesn’t have a blog where she can write three pages to get her point across to readers. You suggest she use the phrase “the members of the city council conspicuously offered no opinion. . .”
    You are very eloquent, but I think sometimes it’s better to be clear, and the words “wreck the neighborhood” say it all.
    I don’t think you are so naive as to really believe that because there are new members on the planning board, this changes the impact that the proposed building would have on the neighborhood. The project would wreck the neighborhood, even if the planning board is “profoundly different from the past”.

    The mayor’s indifference to public comment is highly offensive, and it does send a message that she does not care about the neighborhood. However, we were not surprised. We all know how the city council members will vote, all you have to do is look at campaign contributions. Is this really the best thing for the community?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. While this post clearly doesn’t address the writing of Ms. Liberatore, who I have found to be biased in much of her writing over the years. To address Ms. Smith’s comments concept that Ms. Liberatore needs to “get her point across”. No, she is a reporter who was reporting on a specific event. Her job in that case is to provide facts and let the readers make their own interpretations and conclusions. If she wishes to get her personal opinion across then she needs to write and opinion piece. There is a BIG difference.

      I’m not even sure how to respond to the rest of Ms. Smith’s post. Ms. Smith and the neighbors continue to make the same unproved insinuation that the council members have been bought and I find this offensive. For those that are coming on board in 2020, at each of the debates they were clear where they stood when asked. Yet, the citizens of this city chose to re-elect or elect them. I realize that the neighbors aren’t happy with this yet it seems the rest of the city (and at least one neighbor who spoke on Tuesday) recognizes the need for the hospital to build this building.

      Not only that, the current council who will likely vote on this are the same that have been there for the last 2 years and one will not be returning so apparently he will vote his conscious and not based on campaign contributions. I’m frustrated with the ongoing change up the “neighbors” have gone through. When one argument is debunked they come up with a new one. As someone who was at the meeting this past Tuesday, I heard the last speaker ramble from one argument to another with little connection and make some very unsettling insinuations. My take on that is if you can’t make your argument on actual facts then perhaps you don’t have much of an argument.

      That said, let me agree that there are some concerns that are understandable. However, rather than work with the hospital and the City Council this group chooses to remain myopic and focused on “winning” and being right rather than working on what is right. As Ms Smith states “Is this really the best thing for the community?” – I guess that depends on whether you are considering the immediate neighborhood or the larger community of Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County. It is a reality that at times, what is right for the larger population is not the best for a smaller portion. Even saying that, I’m fairly sure that even though some discomfort may be real if this building is built, it will likely not be the tragic (or as Ms. Smith states “wreck the neighborhood”.

      For full disclosure, while I don’t live in the immediate neighborhood that may be impacted, I don’t live very far. I hear the sirens 24/7. I look at this two ways. One is that someone is in dire need of help when an ambulance screams past and that is what one expects when living near a hospital. So, it still baffles me as to how own chooses to live near a hospital in a growing city and think that the hospital will not need to grow and that this may not impact then as it does.

      So, perhaps instead of fighting what Ms. Smith seems to see as inevitable, get to working with the City and with the hospital. Despite the insinuations to the opposite, I’m confident that Mr. Calbone, the board and the City Council do listen and will do the best they can to limit any impact. At the risk of being repetitive, stop catastrophizing, and stop making up things that haven’t yet been proven to exist. Just an idea if as Ms. Smith states, “We all know how the city council members will vote”

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Rather than indulging in dark conspiracy theories Ms. Smith and her neighbors might just consider that the City Council members, like many members of the community (including some from the neighborhood near the Hospital), support the Hospital’s plan simply because they think it’s a good idea.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Typically, city council does not respond to public comment. Boards usually don’t, either. I was there, though, and I can attest to the fact that the council spoke only to correct misunderstandings. Those who came to speak on behalf of Loughberry Lake and RR Run were incorrect in their assumption that the land was under threat. Neither parcel was in contention — and Mayor Kelly asked the lawyer to clarify that fact. Obviously, the hospital parcel is in contention — which is why they didn’t need to make any corrections. Wendy either didn’t understand that or didn’t want to understand that. And Alice, your accusations are baseless and unfair.

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  2. I am not a Wendy Liberatore brasher and I don’t support the Hospital’s Morgan Street medical office complex so I disagree with John’s commentary in this instance.

    Wendy doesn’t always get everything exactly right but I don’t believe that she is heavily biased as some would have us believe. I have had issues with other stories in the TU but I think that they do a good job overall. The TU is but one of many local media outlets which at times have not let facts get in the way of a juicy story.

    As far as the Hospital’s Morgan Street medical office complex is concerned, there are other options for the location of that project which should be explored. The property in question was changed from residential to commercial use in the Comp Plan with little consideration or deliberation from the Comprehensive Plan Review Committee or the City Council. There was no attempt to encourage community input, especially from those most directly affected, for this very significant change in use.

    The Council should bring forth a motion to amend the Parcel #1 portion of the Comp Plan before the UDO is approved. This issue deserves more attention.

    Chris Mathiesen

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Regarding the hospital, I believe they sincerely explored other options. We must remember that this is a not-for-profit business that does a great service to our city — and that the comprehensive plan urges dense downtown development for quality of life reasons. Moving the hospital offices out to Wilton or some other suburban area is bad for the city in many ways: 1) It adds to sprawl – which is bad for green space, 2) It creates automobile dependency, 3) It’s not good for those in the lower income bracket or with limited transportation means, and 4) It increases the cost of healthcare. I noticed that those protesting the hospital’s plan are the kind that can afford lawyers. Alice Smith spoke and got it totally wrong when she said the Comprehensive Plan is about preserving property value. The Comprehensive Plan is about making sure we have a city that functions well for ALL of us. This is intelligent development at its core… but some will lose in the process as we change and grow. Growth is inevitable unless people are willing to stop having babies. Meanwhile, the hospital has promised to accommodate and shield the residents’ property from their development.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The Hospital is most certainly a ‘for profit’ organization regardless of what the wording is. You ignore the fact that Wilton Medicals arts and the two other adjoining buildings are part of the Saratoga hospital, so in sense they have already created ‘sprawl’ Let’s not forget the Malta facility at exit 12, also part of the Hospital. Creating additional emergency rooms and perhaps a ‘trauma center’ (which Saratoga hospital does not have btw) would be one thing and I could be on board with that but they are going to build apartments will overlook the lovely golf and polo club. That does not seem essential as to interfere with existing homes in an area (Myrtle street) that already has WAYYYYYY too much traffic than that intersection can handle. My two cents.

      Also, The Wilton Mall will be officially deceased in … perhaps two years. They could build up and out with little effort and complaints from nearly no one.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. The apartments were in the Planned Unit Development that died when Mayor Yepsen and John Franck recused a number of years ago. The zoning under consideration now would not allow them. It only allows for a medical office building.
        It is not-for-profit in that all the income that exceeds expenditures goes back into the hospital rather than into the pockets of share holders. The hospital board members receive nothing from the income that exceeds expenditure.

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      2. Where did you hear that the hospital is going to build apartments? I’ve attended every meeting and no where have I heard that. I did hear a few people mention that rumor and I heard the hospital clearly debunk that rumor. In fact, what can happen if the hospital does not build the office building as they are hoping to do (in just a part of the property) – they may sell the property to a developer will do just that.

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  4. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but,
    Lale, please look and listen to the video of the City Council Meeting, and you will see that I never mentioned the word “property value”. I also never mentioned “the Comprehensive Plan is about preserving property value”. A Comprehensive Plan is formulated to establish policy for the best community development and includes a wide range of aspects. Please do not put words in my mouth. As for your comment about the “kind of people that can afford a lawyer” -this is a very ignorant assumption about people’s personal finances that you know nothing about. It’s not fun to need a lawyer to protect your rights.
    Our main focus is that the hospital has other options. And I will add: “they are the kind of people who can afford a lawyer” .
    The rest of your arguments could be applied to make our point against building on Morgan Street.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was at the meeting and if you didn’t say those things other did. As for other options, it seems you purposely choose to either not hear or not believe the explanations the hospital has made over and over. They have identified this need for years so do you really think if those other options were viable they would go through this? That just makes no sense. I don’t know anyone there who wants this fight just for the heck of it. Rather it seems to be the neighbors who come up with one reason after another (when one is proven to not hold water) and seem intent on keeping this fight going.

      I won’t repeat all of what I said above yet the way I understand it the Comprehensive Plan is intended to identify what is best for all those in Saratoga Springs. And, yes, as Lale said, sometimes sacrifices are made in one area to benefit the larger purpose. I understand that frustration, yet each of you purchased property near a hospital in a growing city. I’m not sure how you didn’t think this might eventually have an impact on you. When I lived (renting) in a wonderful neighborhood near an airport that we were sure was going to grow in the future, despite loving our neighbors and the neighborhood – where houses were reasonable, we chose to buy elsewhere with that in mind. So, this is not entirely on the hospital.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. It certainly sounded like what you said- but you were speaking pretty quietly and indistinctly, so it’s possible you were unclear. Please refrain from calling people “ignorant” simply because you don’t agree with them. As to the kind of people who can’t afford a lawyer, I notice that none of them were there fighting for their right to have a hospital and doctor’s offices within walking distance. They can’t afford a lawyer to fight for their rights.

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  5. The Times Union likes to write about Saratoga’s dirt because the Saratogian won’t or only belated does.

    Remember that Saratoga Hospital is an affiliate of Albany Med and we don’t know their role in pushing this.

    I tend to agree with Chris Mathieson that other options should be explored especially if the neighborhood was left out early on. Personally, if it ends up being a physician pavillion similar to Albany Med’s, I don’t see how you protect the neighbors unless you build an actual wall. We can make the Times Union pay for it.

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    1. Just to clarify – While Saratoga Hospital is an affiliate of Albany Med they continue to act as an independent entity with its’ own board and management. The affiliation, for the most part, is to create a situation where patients can be easily transferred from one to another with little or no red tape. So, as Albany Med has a trauma center, if someone is brought to Saratoga Hospital in need of a Trauma Center they can be readily and easily transferred to Albany Med. It allows doctors to communicate with each other as they are under a larger umbrella of affiliation.

      I can understand the confusion yet it would be wise to have facts and understanding prior to making such assumptions and insinuations. That is one of the things that has been so frustrating in this entire process – the unfounded insinuation or lack of research to have facts.

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      1. I also wasn’t intending to convey the notion that something was going on that wasn’t above board. Clearly there is intense competition between Albany Med, St Peter’s and Ellis in having satellites in Saratoga County and elsewhere. Increased access for outpatients is , presumably, good for the community at large, the hospital, and Albany Med, but it not good for folks on Morgan Street and at Birch Run. If there are alternative option such as off-site locations with dedicated shuttles I would hope they would be seriously evaluated before radically and irreversibly changing the neighborhood.

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  6. There seems to be no place to respond directly to Nancy’s last comment. Yet, that comment is, at best, misinformed and at worse biased. There are many people, myself included, who could not afford a lawyer at the level the neighbors are doing right now . And, I promise you, Nancy, I’m not on medicaid and I pay my own bills. I am a New York taxpayer and thus (based on your criteria) my opinion counts.

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    1. Gayle, It is sometimes difficult to convey ones thoughts in the blog comment section. Lale, inferred that people that people of limited means need the hospital to be within walking distance as they do not have reliable transportation. My counter to that is that people who do not own vehicles or live far away from said hospital rely on Medicaid (pays for their taxi ride to and from said hospital) that’s all. The taxpayers pay for this. (another subject for another day) I wasn’t accusing you or anyone of anything. I do have an issue with Ms. Davidson’s underhanded remark about ‘they are the kind of people who can afford lawyers’ is just one white person accusing other white people of having…wait for it…WHITE PRIVILEGE. (the new pot calling the kettle black) as is the trend.

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      1. I still don’t get your point then. At age 68 I hope to drive for many years to come yet I’m also hoping to live quite some time. As I said, I’m sure I’m not alone in having some security in knowing there is a hospital not far away and would really appreciate not having to travel all over town to see my doctors. If I have a medical emergency it would be nice if my primary MD didn’t have to drive from Wilton to see me in the hospital. So, the idea some are still putting out that we could have all those Docs at a distance does not meet the goal of essential patient services. Believe me, I’ve talked to the people at the hospital and they have explored all other options. They are not doing this to intentionally make anyone’s life difficult. They are proposing what – after much research – is in the best interest of patients and the doctors for years to come.

        I’m starting to wonder why I continue this conversation though I’ve often been told I continue to try to be logical even when those around are choosing to be myopic or illogical. As I’ve followed this process the one thing that has been constant is that when one concern (or accusation or insinuation) has been debunked the neighbors come up with a new one or simply refuse to believe that what has been shown is not true.

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  7. After reading another one of Wendy’s garbage articles in the TU (re: Energy Now), I am curious of just a few things:

    1.) How many of Wendy’s articles mention Bill McTygue either directly or indirectly as a source or subject? If you still have doubts as to Wendy’s bias, ask yourself if any other private citizen from the city is mentioned as frequently in her articles as he is.

    2.) Does this this seem like a worthwhile expenditure for our police department to be devoting resources to? Seems to be politically motivated-at best. Curious timing for these citizens to file their complaint- October 16th. Too bad this didn’t pan out for them at the polls.

    3.) Does it really make sense that city council members would willingly agree to pay more for utilities against their own interests? Last time I checked, they still reside in the city and would be paying these same inflated costs as everyone else.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dear Nancy:
    You said “because medicaid pays for their cab ride where ever their doctor might be, including Albany. Who pays for that? All New York taxpayers.”
    Your comments about Medicaid recipients is so wrong. I am hoping you can continue to be healthy, and apparently, wealthy. There are many who need Medicaid to survive. Life has many twists and turns, someday it might be you, who desperately needs Medicaid coverage.

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    1. I think your comment is relevant to the decline of local newspapers.

      Because for every thoughtful and careful blogger like Mr. Kaufmann, who does his research before writing a word, there are countless other “citizen journalists” who repeat half-truths or (inspired by drive-time talk radio) try to drum up controversies for clicks.

      Unfortunately, the Times Union has reduced editorial staff to the point where their local reporting has suffered. I love the idea of local folks trying to fill the void, but unfortunately they have no editors or fact-checkers.

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  9. Jill, I’ll take your word that you weren’t making any accusation here yet you said:

    “The Times Union likes to write about Saratoga’s dirt because the Saratogian won’t or only belated does.”
    “Remember that Saratoga Hospital is an affiliate of Albany Med and we don’t know their role in pushing this.”

    If not a direct accusation there is a strong insinuation that the staff at Saratoga Hospital are not being forthright and may be under pressure from Albany Med – though I can’t see how this would impact Albany Med in any way. You also mention “Saratoga’s dirt” so that sounds pretty ominous.

    “Personally, if it ends up being a physician pavillion similar to Albany Med’s,…”
    In the past the hospital presented a plan with drawings, etc. and it doesn’t look anything like that. At that time, they were also quite open to working with the neighbors and made some significant changes to try to ameliorate any unsightly elements including putting in soft downlights that would be lowered at night to lessen any light pollution, putting up a berm to protect the neighbors. So, again, it would lessen much angst if people would be fully informed before going to the “What ifs…..”

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      1. Jill,

        Gayle won this round hands down.
        But sometimes, she gets no respect.

        Why is it that some find it terribly difficult hard to accept defeat?
        The debate is over.

        And—
        This one is especially for Nancy because he has a sense of humor:
        (All you kids all need to lighten up.)

        Time to get “over” it.
        The Times Union is one big editorial journal.
        Newspaper? Not by a long shot. Not since 9/11.
        Who-What-Why-Where-When-How does not enter into the equation.
        And fact checking sources is non existent.

        And the Saratogian is a disservice to the community.
        Wouldn’t it be swell if the Gazette bought the Saratogian?

        Just sayin.’

        -JC

        Liked by 1 person

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