The Non-Story Story
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(C) 2016 Luke T. Bush
PLATTSBURGH CITY, NY -- Sept. 12, 2016
Is there a story here?
A key question for a journalist when someone passes along information pertaining to a possible rule-breaking/illegal activity.
There's a technical paper called Municipal Fundraising And Gifting (August 2012) published by the New York State Tug Hill Commission that outlines the limitations for a city regarding donation solicitation. You can find a PDF copy here . Before perusing this fascinating document I would recommend consuming a full pot of coffee or a half-dozen caffeine pills (More pharmacists recommend NoDoz more than any other brand.)
The publication details how a municipality must act independently from any non-profit group, no overlapping allowed. Basically the Podunk administration can't directly act on the behalf of a group such as the Friends of Podunk. There's a little problem called conflict of interest. When Podunk municipality backs one non-profit group over all others it's giving that chosen group an unfair advantage.
So there's this letter sent out last year by Podunk to businesses asking for donations for a special event promoting the city. Donations to the Friends of Podunk are to be mailed directly to the city hall office of a particular municipal employee.
A no-no? Maybe. I contact the New York State Comptroller's office to learn if a violation has been committed.
After a few emails I get a copy of a 1983 opinion about a unnamed county selling for profit decals with the official county logo. A no-no according to this opinion.
I ask the NYS Comptroller's office how does this pertain to the matter of Podunk and the Friends of Podunk. The official contact tells me that this is the best case related to the matter. Am I to infer that a SWAT team will sweep in and shut down any decal selling operation in violation of state regulations? ("Put down that sticker! Up against the wall!")
I ask if the state will look into the Podunk affair. The reply: "It certainly is an issue our audit team could examine in the future." Or could not examine. You gotta love tautology.
The 1983 opinion includes this disclaimer at the end:
"This opinion represents the view of the Office of the State Comptroller at the time it was rendered. The opinion may no longer represent the views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments on the issues discussed in the opinion."
Of course NYS doesn't refer me to any other rulings. What they sent me might be an invalid point to write about in an article. After 1983 a different opinion could have come along, allowing a governmental body in New York State to sell all the decals for profit it wants. If that's the case here's my recommendation for a sticker message: Democracy = Transparency.
The question remains if Podunk overstepped its bounds. Who knows? Is Little Nell alive? Who shot J.R.?
The matter of Podunk and its Friends is a non-story. Dead end.
This means an Albany apparatchik can relax his office, being paid top dollar to promulgate vagueness on the behalf of taxpayers.
That's another story.