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HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO US: Talk of the Sound Turns 9

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HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO US: Talk of the Sound Turns 9

September 01, 2017 - 22:35
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It has been nine years since I launched Talk of the Sound on September 1, 2008.

In the preceding years, going back to the months after the 9-11 attack I got involved in what became a movement of sorts, the development of the nascent field of "citizen journalism". You can read my bio for the details but my first real burst of notoriety came in 2003 when I wrote an article one morning which exposed a major error in a Maureen Down column in the New York Times; by that evening my reporting was national news, featured on CNN. A year later, the New York Times took legal action and shut down my web site over a satirical web page I had created mocking the paper's lack of a Correction's policy for Op-Ed columnists like Dowd, Paul Krugman, David Brooks, Frank Rich and others. I was one of the first "bloggers" threatened with litigation in a high profile case. After I won that battle, as documented by then the Times' Public Editor Dan Okrent, I was invited to speak about my experience at a conference at Harvard Law School.

Through that experience, I came to see the need for legal defense resources for citizen journalists. I founded the Media Bloggers Association in 2004 to support and defend citizen journalists. Initially, the MBA was a group of 40 of some of the prominent people in the field, a group that went on to become hosts of TV shows on cable news networks like CNN and Bloomberg TV, paid contributors for major TV networks, columnists for major newspapers like USA TODAY and more.

For more than 5 years, I traveled the country to give talks at major media conferences, universities and, in particular, journalism schools. I appeared on MSNBC, Fox News Channel, CNBC, CNN, ABC World News Tonight, the BBC and too many major media outlets to recall. I would recount my experience taking on, and ultimately winning, my legal battle with The New York Times and my efforts to both create opportunities for "bloggers" and to protect them from litigation over copyright infringement, privacy, and defamation. As President of the Media Bloggers Association, I was involved in working with noted First Amendment law firms and nonprofits to organize legal defenses in over 400 cases, developed ethics policies and online training and media liability insurance products for citizen journalists, ran media credential programs for Presidential debates, federal trials, corporate shareholder meetings, and sporting events. I was the first person credentialed "as a blogger" for a Federal Trial (USA v. Lewis "Scooter" Libby) which led to my being among the original exhibits at the Newseum in Washington DC (and being invited to the grand opening with all of official Washington including the President). Perhaps the biggest highlight of my career was being asked to advise then-recently-retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on "blogging" which led to an invitation to work on an initiative on the Judiciary she developed with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. Through that I met almost every member of the U.S. Supreme Court and was asked to present to The Judicial Conference of the United States, the national policy-making body for the fedearl courts, led by Chief Justice John Roberts and doing some advisory with the White House Communications team.

During this time, there were several people who attempted to create a hyperlocal news site for New Rochelle.  This was in response to the dearth of coverage of New Rochelle: the Journal News would report on New Rochelle sporadically, mostly on sports; News12 rarely covered New Rochelle. And that was about it. And neither outlet was doing much original or investigative reporting.

I attempted to assist the people starting up tiny local news sites but in each case, the effort foundered and was discontinued. It became apparent that unless I did it myself, there would not be real journalism in New Rochelle. 

And then one day I had enough of the national political and media scene and decided to focus on New Rochelle.

The trigger that led me to sit down in August 2008 to layout and develop what became Talk of the Sound was my own experience with the warped inequities as a parent seeking fair and legally required support and services for my child. At every step of the way, admistratators lied to cover up mistakes by staff. In attempting to seek redress from venues outside the City School District of New Rochelle and New Rochelle Board of Education, I quickly learned that the entire "educational industrial complex" in New York State is devised to defer to local school officials so if you have bad ones, and New Rochelle did, there is no recourse. The bad ones include Marisa Raniolo, Joyce Kent, Mike Kenny, Gustavo Barbosa, Don Conetta, Yvette Goorevich, Freddie Dean Smith and Richard Organisciak. The District spent over $500,000 in a 9-month long Impartial Hearing (they usually last half a day) because they refused to provide legally required support and services to my child. School district employees lied under oath, withheld records subject to discovery, manufactured records, refused to produce witnesses and otherwise gamed the system to drag out the hearing in the hope I would go away. I did not. I ultimately won the case when I demonstrated that then-Director of Special Education Yvette Goorevitch had secretly gone into District computers to unilaterally de-classify my child (went into his computer file and secretly and illegally changed his support designation as determined by the Committee on Special Education), generated falsified records then, when confronted about in the hearing, lied about it under oath.

Few parents would have persisted as I did in my child's case so, to help them, I set out to create a new arena where any resident with a legitimate gripe could be heard. This was not to fight my own battle for my child who long ago aged up and graduated but others facing similar issues whether with the schools, city government, police or any other bureaucracy standing in their way of getting a fair hearing.

Of course, if you are going to take on the status quo -- a deeply corrupt one at that -- you can expect the bad guys (and gals) are not going to take it lying down. And they did not. Over the years I have been harassed in letters, online and (less often) to my face. I have been subject to threats of violence including death threats, vandalism, and insults. Shoved, kicked, punched, investigated, threatened, arrested and more all in an effort to get me to stop exposing corruption and malfeasance in New Rochelle. It has not worked.

Talk of the Sound has grown over the years to become the most trusted source of news and information about New Rochelle in New Rochelle. In the early days, that vile reprobate, Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak would respond to concerns I raised by saying to board members "Consider the source". In defiance, I adopted that as our tag line and kept it ever since.

So, by all means "consider the source": I told our readers that John Gallagher of Aramark was operating a criminal enterprise out of the New Rochelle Schools (he is now under Federal indictment for bribery and kickbacks), that Jose Martinez was raping boys in his office at Isaac E. Young Middle School (he is now serving a 10 year probation for sex crimes and is a registered sex offender, that Richard Fevang was defrauding the City DPW (he was charged with 66 counts of fraud, took a plea deal and was fired by the City), that Freddie Dean Smith was a criminal (we obtained and published his rap sheet with a dozen convictions including two for sex crimes and one felony), that Mauro Zonzini was paying bribes and kickbacks to public officials (he plead guilty in federal court to operating a bribery and kickback scheme). In Zonzini's case, he signed a cooperation agreement with the DOJ to rat out his co-conspirators which I expect will lead to the Federal indictment of Police Commissioner Patrick Carroll (who has now resigned effective 4 months from now).

I always make it a point to document reporting through public records requests, surveillance, photos and videos, and, wherever possible, inside sources. I make it a point to be right

A key part of that effort was pushing for complete adherence to New York State's Freedom of Information Law and Open Meeting Law. Both "sunshine laws" were flouted in the past. Today, as a result of my effort, all official meeting of the City of New Rochelle and the City School District of New Rochelle are video taped, archived and broadcast online and/or TV.

The political and media landscape has certainly changed over the last 9 years and I am pleased to have played a positive role in that. Part of that has been through skill, part luck and partly just bulldog (or should I say bull terrier) determination and perseverance, most notably as applies to the school district.

Of the 29 top leadership positions in the district, 27 of them have been replaced with just two in the same position today (Anthony Bongo and Bruce Daniele). One person was promoted to a higher position (Joe Williams) and so remains but not in the position he held in 2008. I have outlasted every cabinet member and every board member and all but one principal from when I started in 2008.

Put another way there are very few people running the District who can recall a time when Talk of the Sound was not reporting on them.

In 2008, the administration consisted of Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak (fired, since died), Assistant Superintendent for Business & Administration John Quinn (fired, since exposed as subject of Federal criminal investigation), Assistant Superintendent Freddie Dean Smith (resigned, exposed as fraud, criminal), Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Margaret Pecunia (fired), Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Korostoff (retired), Assistant Superintendent Diane Massimo (retired). The New Rochelle Board of Education consisted of Mary Jane Reddington (gone), David Lacher (gone), Deidre Polow (gone), Cindy Babcock-Deutsch (gone), Jerome Smith (gone), Chrisanne Petrone (gone), Quay Watkins (gone), Martin Sanchez (gone), and Sara Richmond (gone). School Principals were Don Conetta at New Rochelle High School (retired), Bill Evans at Albert Leonard Middle School (retired), Bill Harrell at George M. Davis Jr. Elementary School (retired), Ken Regan at William B. Ward Elementary School (fired), Yigal Joseph at Christopher Columbus Elementary School (retired), Patricia Lambert at Barnard Early Childhood Center (retired), Joseph Williams at Daniel Webster Elementary School (promoted to Assistant to the Superintendent for Human Resources), Jackie Herman at Trinity Elementary School (retired) with Richard McMahon as interim while she was on maternity leave, Cindy Slotkin at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School (retired), Anthony Bongo (still in same position). Director-level positions were Bruce Daniele at Security (still in the same position), Yvette Goorevitch at Special Education (retired), Adrienne Weiss-Harrison at Medical (retired), Carol Feldman at Pupil Services (retired).

It is amazing to look back and see how I have outlasted so many of these people.

There is a lot I have been proud of over the past 9 years but at the top of the list would be my role in putting Jose Martinez in jail for raping boys in his office at Isaac E. Young Middle School, the federal indictments of Mauro Zonzini and John Gallagher (and the hope of more to come), defeating the Echo Bay project, increasing the amount of oveall media coverage of New Rochelle (many of our stories and tweets get picked up by larger media outlets), defeating the poorly conceived school bond on December 15, 2015, improving the bond dramatically and helping to get it pass.

Just consider the District would have already spent the $50 mm in bond had they got their way, now we have far more to spend and as the work has progressed the need has become more apparent. Is there anyone now who supported the $106.5 mm bond in May 2016 who does not see that I was entirely correct to oppose a bond less than half the size that would have barely made a dent in repairing the decrepit infrastructure left to us by Aramark after decades of criminal neglect?

There are plenty of other good things I have gotten done over the past 9 years but as always, I want to be sure to thank my readers, especially those who provide the tips that become the stories that hold the bad guys accountable.

I would be curious what you think about what sort of difference I have made in our community, any specific reporting published on Talk of the Sound that you think made a positive impact on our community, and what I might work on down the road?

If you want to support the kind of reporting we have delivered over the past 9 years, click on the PayPal button in the right column to contribute.