As a gesture of respect to our loyal readership, Geneva Believer has thus far avoided slapping together and posting numbered countdown lists in lieu of creating new content. But after sixty-six consecutive list-free blog posts, we’re throwing respect out the window, and are proud to insult readers with our inaugural end-of-the-year countdown of the Top 10 Stories of 2017!
10. Ethics Violations
City Council’s poorly executed attempt to sell off a parcel of publicly owned green space adjacent to the lakefront was one of the big stories of 2016. The aborted sale generated three complaints to the city’s Board of Ethical review, and the board found ethics violations for two of those complaints in 2017. In one complaint, all of City Council along with City Manager Matt Horn were found in violation, and in the other, Councilor Ken Camera was cited.
The violations by Council and Horn might seem like relatively minor infractions, but the story (especially the way in which the ethics violations were publicly disclosed) reflects a consistent pattern by city government to limit transparency throughout the past year-plus.
9 . Unusual Payments
The June story about the sketchy business deals made between the city and former DPW Director (and current Councilor) Gordy Eddington also receives the “Most Overlooked Story of 2017” award.
A FOIL request showed that the city had paid Eddington’s Asbestos Contractor License fees at least three times between 2012 and 2015. These payments totaled over $27,000 and may have even been illegal, especially if Eddington’s company was doing work for other entities under the same license.
In addition, it was discovered that the city paid Eddington over $12,000 for “environmental testing and reporting” at a city-owned downtown parcel. Eddington is not an engineer and his company specializes in asbestos (not soil borings and analytical testing), so the fact that he was awarded such a lucrative job is highly suspicious.
8. Reducing Transparency
City Council held their annual retreat in January, and city attorney Emil Bove offered a presentation entitled “The Role of Executive Sessions in Council Operations.”
During the presentation, the city attorney said that FOIL requests were an “incredible headache” for the City Manager, that the procedure followed in the ill-fated lakefront land sale was “proper” even if the Board of Ethics and the executive director of the state Committee on Open Government said otherwise, and that the Mayor of Geneva can claim “executive privilege” just like the President of the United States can, among other specious claims.
This avoidance of transparency as a matter of policy continued when Mayor Alcock conjured a new rule for public commenters during City Council meetings preventing those citizens from referring to any councilors by name.
It was apparent that the Mayor’s new “rule” was in response to public commenters criticizing Eddington’s coverup of the Geneva Foundry contamination for over 20 years, and further demonstrated that the current Council has little understanding or appreciation of the concepts of free speech, open government and transparency.
7. DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative)
In July 2016, New York Governor Mario Cuomo announced that Geneva would be awarded a $10 million Downtown Revitalization Grant. A series of public input sessions were held to create a list of potential projects to be funded by the DRI award. At the October 27th public meeting, consultants outlined the programmatic elements of the DRI effort, which would include poverty reduction, addressing the food desert, and mixed-income housing downtown.
In December, consultants proposed the “Geneva Public Market” project, an upscale market to be placed at the current location of the Family Dollar store on Exchange Street, which would effectively replace a low-income shopping location with a high-end market for the upper-middle-class and tourists.
At the final public session in late January, participants were stunned to see a mixed-use development called “Exchange Commons” added to the list of potential projects for the first time.
Neither the Geneva Public Market and the Exchange Commons proposals were approved.
And among the projects eventually approved, none were directly related to poverty reduction, addressing the food desert, and mixed-income housing downtown.
6. GPD Chief Residency Requirement
In early November, a Geneva Believer investigation discovered that Geneva Police Chief Jeff Trickler had failed to follow the residency requirement he agreed to when accepting the position in 2011.
In addition, a FOIL request found that Trickler had been given $2,500 in taxpayer money to cover his moving expenses.
Less than a month after the Geneva Believer story, City Council voted on a resolution to exempt the chief from the residency requirement for the duration of his term, with the expectation that he would return the $2,500 to the city.
Council eventually voted 8-1 for the exemption, sending a message to the public that if the chief of police is caught breaking a rule, City Council will simply change the rule for him. In the end, no one was held accountable for the six-plus year “mistake,” there was no meaningful discussion of policy, and public confidence in City Council suffered another serious blow.
5. A Story Of Bullying and Police Misconduct
A mother’s story of her daughter’s experience of being bullied by a group of Geneva teens, and the alleged corruption and nepotism witnessed by this mother when she reported the abuse, has become the single most-viewed story in Geneva Believer history.
The entire ordeal is too much to neatly unpack in a few sentences here, so if you haven’t taken the opportunity, please take a few minutes to settle in and read the story Michelle Wilcox told Geneva Believer.
4. Marsh Creek Spill
On the morning of August 4th, an estimated 5,000 gallons of raw sewage was accidentally dumped into Marsh Creek, a narrow waterway that passes through residential neighborhoods and alongside a city park in Ward 6 before emptying into Seneca Lake just a few hundred feet from the Geneva Visitor and Events Center. The city issued no alerts for residents or visitors near the creek or the lakefront.
As questions about the city’s response to the raw sewage spill emerged, the city manager and at least one Councilor responded but failed to acknowledge the potential danger to hundreds of residents of Ward 6 and the city, and many concerned citizens would conclude that the city had not learned a single lesson from their horrific handling of the Geneva Foundry disaster.
3. City Council(or)’s Domestic Violence Problem
April began with a story about Ward 1 City Councilor Angelina Marino’s three documented domestic violence incidents and the apparent preferential treatment she received from responding Geneva Police officers each time. Within hours, the story went viral. The city manager responded, Marino responded, and one councilor called for an investigation into the Geneva Police’s handling of the domestic violence calls.
As 2017 comes to an end, there has been no investigation nor any further comments from any public officials on the matter of Marino’s domestic violence history or the apparent failure by responding GPD officers to follow procedure.
2. GPD Under Fire
In September, an image depicting a collage of racist Facebook posts by a Geneva Police officer began spreading on social media. Within 24 hours, the city manager, City Councilor Mark Gramling, and the Geneva Community Compact Committee had released statements condemning the officer’s posts.
At the next City Council meeting three weeks later, multiple community members spoke about the need for citizen oversight of the police department, citing experiences of police bias and the GPD’s ineffective complaint process.
It’s anticipated that the community will continue to pressure City Council to create a truly independent citizen review board in the coming months.
1. The Geneva Foundry Disaster
The year began with the emerging story of the decades-long cover-up of lead and arsenic contamination on residential properties surrounding the former Geneva Foundry site. As 2016 came to an end, the city of Geneva was essentially telling residents “we’ll tell the DEC to hurry the cleanup, and if you have any questions about why nobody warned you about the contamination, talk to the DEC.”
As Geneva Believer staff began combing through FOIL documents obtained from the DEC and the City of Geneva, a disturbing picture began to emerge of city officials having knowledge of the contamination but doing nothing to warn residents. And it turned out that the former Geneva DPW director who was in charge of the Foundry cleanup for years also happened to be a current city councilor.
City Council meetings erupted with protests and the emotional pleas of Foundry neighborhood residents and others.
Eventually, the city began to create programming for those living in the contamination zone, assisting with raised bed gardens, remediation updates, and vouchers for fresh vegetables.
For 2018, Council has approved $100,000 for further efforts to help those in the contamination zone. But there is no property tax relief (or similar measures) being planned.
And to date, there has been no official investigation into exactly why the contamination was kept hidden from residents, endangering their children, pets and families’ well-being, for nearly 30 years.
In addition, there is no new plan in place to avoid or promptly address any potential industrial disasters like the Geneva Foundry in the future.
Geneva Believer Says “THANKS!”
We’d like to thank all of our readers for your support and feedback throughout 2017. We’d like to think that Geneva Believer has opened a few eyes that otherwise may not have been opened and told a few stories that otherwise may not have been told.
We’ll see you again in 2018 with more stories, more insights, and a brand-new podcast!