Misinformation and Lies: A Message To City Council From Geneva Believer

Geneva Believer provides city officials with a Foundry history lesson and a tutorial on contemporary government and media.

At the April 5, 2017 City Council meeting, during the public comment segment, Geneva Foundry contamination zone resident Margarita Arroyo made references to a ten-year estimated time frame for the residential cleanup to be completed. At one point, Arroyo was interrupted by 5th Ward Councilor Jason Hagerman, who asked her “Where are you hearing ‘ten years from now?'” Arroyo responded, “You guys have wrote it in the papers that it’s probably going to take a ten year process to clean that up.”

City Manager Matt Horn then stated:

“At the close of public comment, during reports, we’ll have an update on that effort, that’s not a fact released by the city, to my knowledge.”

Ward 5 City Councilor Jason Hagerman

Councilor Hagerman and City Manager Horn should know exactly how such references to a ten-year cleanup process originated.

Later in the same meeting, during Council reports, 4th Ward Councilor Ken Camera responded to the concerns expressed by the public about the Foundry by commenting on the accuracy of the information residents were receiving…specifically, from “an online website” or “people that are doing blogs”:

“I think it’s a really pressing need for the community to be informed…to try to make sure that the factual information is always out there, and not being interpreted either through an online website or Finger Lakes Times or anything…there might be a misinterpretation of what the city said.”

“If (the City Manager) and the Mayor could issue a press release, basically an update, and a reminder of what’s going on, then I think that we can then rely more on the people that are doing blogs and everything else, to consult your press release first before making other kinds of statements.”

Note: If any readers believe they have found a factual error in a Geneva Believer post, they are strongly encouraged to contact us, and we will gladly publish a clarification or retraction, as we’ve done several times in the past.

Ward 4 City Councilor Ken Camera

Fast-forward to the May 3rd, 2017 Council Meeting – during his comments about Resolution 17, Camera again expressed concerns about residents receiving inaccurate Foundry-related information:

“We cannot let misinformation stand around and characterize the public conversation about the Foundry or any other issue. If a former councilor made a factually inaccurate statement, then the city should prove it and say so. If someone else said the cleanup is going to take ten years, then we should challenge this statement, and ask them to produce the schedule or evidence that says so.”

“Mark Twain said ‘A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.’ That doesn’t have to be anymore. We have the ability to chase that lie down, and either verify that it’s a lie, or change the record.”

For the benefit of Councilors Hagerman and Camera, as well as City Manager Horn, let’s revisit the Foundry story, beginning back in October, to see why a ten-year cleanup time frame is still being referenced.

TL;DR – The DEC Said It

From the Geneva City Code of Ethics, which provides guidelines for the conduct of elected officials and city employees

“TENET 5: CONDUCT OF PUBLIC MEETINGS:

Public Officials shall prepare themselves for public issues, listen courteously and attentively to all public discussions before the body, and focus on the business at hand.”

It would appear that Councilors Hagerman and Camera, as well as City Manager Horn, have failed to “prepare themselves for public issues,” as evidenced by their apparent bewilderment as to why citizens are mentioning a ten-year estimate for cleanup of the residential properties in the contamination zone.

In October of 2016, when the Foundry story first broke, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation released a Proposed Remedial Action Plan (PRAP). At the time, City officials were telling residents to visit the DEC website for all available information regarding the Foundry cleanup, due to the fact that many local residents were shocked, afraid and angry, and were having difficulty finding answers from the city to their questions.

Former Geneva Foundry Site Cleanup Plan Proposed (source: NYS DEC)

On page 16 of the DEC’s October 2016 PRAP, the estimated timeline for off-site cleanup is explicitly noted, although a bit of rudimentary math is needed to arrive at the actual timeline.

Here’s what the DEC said in October 2016 regarding the estimated residential cleanup timeline:

“Site-related contaminated soil will be removed from approximately 220 properties which will be identified during the remedial design.”

“The off-site remedy will be implemented in phases. It is estimated that design activities will be completed in year 1 and that approximately 20 properties per year can be remediated starting in year 2.”

Okay, readers, put on your thinking caps, sharpen your pencils and let’s do a little bit of math:

  • There were approximately 220 properties to be cleaned up.
  • “Design activities” would be completed in the first year and cleanup would begin in year two.
  • Approximately 20 properties per year would be remediated.

If there are 220 properties, and 20 properties per year can be cleaned up, and 220 divided by 20 equals 11, then it would take an estimated ELEVEN YEARS to clean up all residential properties, once the cleanup had begun.

However, the DEC said that no properties would be cleaned up in year one. Therefore, we need to add 1 year to our original total of 11 years, and we arrive at the actual estimated time frame given by the DEC to complete the residential cleanup:

12 YEARS

It looks like that ten-year estimate is actually pretty generous.

Then, a December 2016 article in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle entitled “Geneva residents weigh legal options over contamination” also referenced a similar time frame from the DEC:

“A DEC document released in October suggested the remediation effort, which will cost at least $17 million, could take five to 10 years.”

When the DEC unveiled their final cleanup plan in January 2017, they did NOT give any estimate for a time frame related to the residential cleanup. As of this writing, they still are not giving an estimate.

It should be entirely unsurprising that residents who were told in late 2016 that it could take around a decade for the cleanup to be completed, but are now being told that nobody really knows how long it will take, would continue to mention the ten-year estimate.

I would encourage all City Councilors and any city employees involved in the Foundry issue to visit the DEC website and review all of the documentation. These same folks should put aside some time to check out all of the Foundry FOIL documents as well. By doing so, they not only might avoid potential Ethics violations, but also any potential embarrassment stemming from a lack of knowledge on specific Foundry details.

Misinformation And Lies?

Since launching in July of 2016, Geneva Believer has logged more than 27,000 views and 14,000 visitors. The blog’s popularity and influence is growing rapidly, and we take seriously our responsibility to provide alternative views and opinions based on verifiable, factual information.

Here in the Geneva Believer newsroom, we’re accustomed to hearing criticism about the work we do. Some of the criticism is personal in nature (“they’re just looking for attention”) and sometimes it’s directed towards the tone of the blog (“they just write a bunch of negative stuff”). We don’t give these kinds of critiques much thought, and they actually serve to provide motivation for us to continue our work.

When members of City Council (or others) make vague (or sometimes specific) references to the blog, and imply that we are trafficking in misinformation and lies, we pay a bit more attention. We would ask that if any Councilors truly believe that this blog has misinformed or lied to the public about the Foundry issue, that they would please point out any specific mistakes, and allow us to correct the record.

We’d also like to remind Council that it’s 2017, and the media and information landscape has changed dramatically from years past. No longer can a small city like Geneva control the narrative on every issue that arises. The days of waiting for an unpleasant story to blow over are long gone. Viewpoints and publicly available information that are in conflict with the official position are now at everyone’s fingertips. Years ago, an elected official boasting that they don’t pay attention to “social media” or “the internet” may have been seen as charming or folksy, but in today’s world, this type of admission is cringe-inducing.

Attempting to discredit an online source of discussion or opinion simply because you don’t like what’s being said, or tightly managing the kinds of public comments that are allowed in the City Council chambers, will have a direct effect on the next election cycle. You can blame blogs, message boards, Facebook, Twitter or the internet, but the reality is that you’ve never before been held accountable and forced to face difficult questions on a daily basis in the way you are today.

The uncomfortable stories are not going to fade away. Everything that you do from here on out will be examined and discussed in the public realm. You will be well served to adjust your expectations and behavior accordingly.

Speaking Of Misinformation And Lies…

Finally, we’d like to invite readers to view the public comments offered by former City Councilor Jackie Augustine at the May 3rd Council meeting. Augustine was responding to the claims in Resolution 17 that the City provided all required information to the DEC regarding the Foundry remediation, and that the DEC failed to act on this information, effectively absolving the City of all responsibility for the decades-long Foundry debacle.

Watch as Augustine thoroughly destroys the City’s claims of innocence by referencing a series of FOIL documents that confirm the exact opposite scenario.

Believe!

 

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