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What do you get when you cross a three ring circus with North Korea’s style of government? The current state of the City of Newburgh’s politics.
Aside from anarchy in the streets and tyranny in the government, the City of Newburgh currently has three major issues destroying its image: Minimal fire protection for residents and business owners; crime-infested streets; and censorship by the city government. Destructive fires and crime-plagued streets are destroying the City of Newburgh’s image, but city leaders are trying their damnedest to censor it from the public.
The city’s leadership has taken no responsibility for their actions and continues to scold the entire world around them for daring to complain. Politicians have gone as far as pointing fingers at the public and the media for discussing anything that does not fit their political “narratives,” a word they seem to be obsessed with lately.
Residents are jumping out of windows to save their own lives while a brand new fire truck sits collecting dust and only two rigs deliver a handful of firefighters to help. On Friday night, a person was stabbed at the Newburgh Waterfront and another person was stabbed on Mill Street (story here). The night before, a person was murdered just up from the waterfront (story here). The city is in shambles.
Over the last several months, users on social media have frequently reported gunshots ringing across the City of Newburgh, but the public is not allowed to know about it. The Council determined last September that they would “control the narrative” of what the public is allowed to know (story here). This is also done by Kim Jong-un with North Korea’s state-run media.
Press releases about the city’s fire department have been nearly non-existent for many years. Aside from fighting fires, firefighters perform other excellent work for their community, such as fire prevention details. These positive stories are rarely told by the city government.
Regarding crime, the city government has only recently allowed the public to know about happy thoughts such as lost puppies riding in police cars. The city government should absolutely show positive work like this that officers perform, but city leaders should also show the dangerous situations officers put themselves in to protect the public.
The city’s police and fire departments are full of hard-working men and women who put their lives on the line every day to earn honest livings. Censoring all the dangerous work they do undermines their positive efforts. This is a morale killer.
Since last October, no press releases have been issued about new crime in the City of Newburgh. Until now.
Earlier this week, The Newburgh News completed an investigation into crime cover-ups after being tipped off by multiple sources (story here). The City Clerk’s office originally denied a Freedom of Information Law request, but suddenly released the information after a series of articles revealed the city’s censorship.
Councilman Anthony Grice, who is often the voice of reason on the Council, took to The Newburgh News’ Facebook page and claimed that other municipalities take much longer to respond to FOIL requests and sometimes do not answer them at all (see screenshot below).
Grice claimed to The Newburgh News, “I did not see where you requested that same information from other places in your coverage area to see how long it takes or what crime didn’t get a press release for comparison.” Grice is correct – He clearly did not see it. Most recently, The Newburgh News submitted a FOIL request for similar material from the Town of Newburgh. That information was released just a few days after acknowledgement, as mentioned in an article published last month (story here).
Laws regarding FOIL requests are crystal clear. New York State law mandates that a municipality must provide the information within 20 business days or it is legally considered a denial. The laws are in place for a reason. Just like the public is expected to obey the laws, so are city officials.
The City of Newburgh did not issue any press releases on new crime for a five month period, which began one month after their “control the narrative” meeting. The Newburgh News published several articles exposing the censorship.
On March 13, 2023, The Newburgh News first broke the first story when the public records request was legally considered a denial (story here).
On March 15, 2023, News 12 aired a report exposing their own battles with the city’s censorship (News 12’s report here). Even Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler told News 12 that Harvey has been accessible, but the rest of the city management has not been as accessible as they have been in the past.
Curiously, the very next day, on March 16, 2023, the City of Newburgh suddenly produced the previously denied FOIL request to The Newburgh News.
The day after that, on March 17, 2023, The Newburgh News published an article exposing the city’s cover-ups of one shooting and three stabbings (story here). Prior to October of 2022, the city often issued press releases on these types of crimes.
Mysteriously, later that very same day, the City of Newburgh broke its five month silence and began issuing some press releases again. However, no press releases have yet been issued about the stabbing in the parking lot of the crowded Newburgh Waterfront on St. Patrick’s Day.
Grice also said the rule of the City Manager approving all press releases dates back to previous City Manager Harry Porr’s regime. However, under Porr’s leadership, press releases were frequently issued to the media. At the time, Porr even went as far as submitting a weekly column to the local newspapers which detailed many happenings involving the city government.
Mayor and censor Torrance Harvey has shown a pattern of becoming agitated and often threatened to use his police force to kick out any citizens who dared to speak badly about the City Council (see the videos below).
Grice defended the censorship during meetings. He said there are rules in place which limit certain speech. By those same rules, Harvey should have been tossed from meetings for his explosive outbursts.
The Council’s restrictions on free speech is likely illegal. Numerous case laws have already been established across the country barring government entities from enacting these types of censorship rules.
In 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in another case that a government’s policy restrictions on “abusive, personally directed, and antagonistic speech, facially and
as-applied, violate the First Amendment.” The court further ruled that interpreting “harassing” to “exclude speech merely because it criticizes” officials would constitute “viewpoint discrimination.”
Also in 2021, a U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania issued an injunction prohibiting a school board from enforcing several restrictions on speech at public meetings, including bans on speech the Board deemed “personally directed,” “personal attacks,” “abusive,” “verbally abusive,” “irrelevant,” “disruptive,” “offensive,” or “inappropriate.” That legal decision also ordered the Board to stop requiring speakers to announce their home address before making remarks.
This year, the Massachusetts Supreme Court set another legal precedent by determining it is unconstitutional to require public meetings to be “respectful and courteous, free of rude, personal, or slanderous remarks.” The court held this cannot be required during the public comment session of a governmental meeting. Although this was ruled in another state’s court, the U.S. Constitution is the same for all states.
The American Civil Liberties Union stated they will now begin monitoring other municipalities.
Councilman and censor Omari Shakur appeared in videos mocking his city’s own police department, called the officers “pigs”, and even posted a video of himself with a gun challenging the police to go after him (see the video below). Then he had the audacity to claim the city works together as a team.
Councilwoman and censor Ramona Monteverde scolded the public on Monday night for having their own “narratives” and not following the city-issued narratives (story here). The outraged public has frequently demanded that the Council stop the censorship and provide adequate fire protection, but Monteverde said the Council will determine what’s best for the them. Monteverde insisted the Council will “move along and ignore it.” Telling the public that the Council knows what is best for them is downright insulting and degrading. The public is smart enough to think for themselves.
Monteverde took to The Newburgh News’ Facebook page after an article highlighted new police officers being hired. “Finally, [The] Newburgh News post[s] a positive story!” she whined (see screenshot below).
Once again, a hypocritical government censor is only telling the public what she wants to. Monteverde has liked numerous Facebook posts by The Newburgh News which provided links to many positive news stories about the City of Newburgh. How quickly the government censors create their own narratives.
In fact, Monteverde may have missed a very positive recent article praising the Council for considering turning Crystal Lake into a park (story here). Maybe she also missed recent stories about: Harvey working to prevent a train disaster in Newburgh (story here); Natural gas lines being replaced throughout the city to improve safety (story here); Harvey meeting President Biden at The White House (story here); New firefighters being hired in the City of Newburgh (story here); New construction at the Newburgh Waterfront (story here); A City of Newburgh volunteer who was named a human rights hero (story here). The list goes on and on. These are just articles about the City of Newburgh. Not included in this list are all the positive articles showing what other local municipalities and school districts are doing.
How quickly Monteverde has forgotten all of the positive news. Perhaps she was away at a censorship convention when those articles were published.
Harvey and Shakur teamed up to censor the firefighters’ union once again on Monday night. Shakur hinted at firing the firefighters for attending public meetings while off-duty as private citizens and speaking against creating a new fire commissioner post. Both censors bizarrely compared the city government to a private business.
This could not be further from the truth. Government is “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” as Abraham Lincoln famously said. Many soldiers have sacrificed their lives to protect this very same freedom.
The Council has repeatedly hushed many citizens who have complained about having dangerously low fire protection. Once again in their finger-pointing fashion, the Council is deflecting the blame onto the firefighters’ union because a contract has not been settled.
The public does not want to hear it! The Council must stop politicizing the lives and properties of their citizens and handle the staffing problems. They have allowed it to go on too long.
The contract with the union sets a “minimum” staffing level. Nothing is stopping the city government from exceeding that minimum if they wish to. Unfortunately, they would rather use the money to hire a new government-appointed crony. Pointing to the current negotiations is simply an excuse and is using the union as a scapegoat.
It is not too late for the city to postpone hiring a new fire commissioner and reallocate the money to better staff the fire department, but the Council will likely “move along and ignore it.”
Although the City Council has done many positive things in recent years, transparency and obeying their voters’ demands are not their strong points. These are all the real reasons the City of Newburgh has a poor reputation. They poked the sleeping bear. The more they scold and censor the public, the angrier the public will become.
In order to sooth the city’s negative image, the leadership must start by behaving better. The City Council must stop censoring the public, stop scolding the public, stop pointing fingers at everyone else, stop defying the public’s demands, and look at their own problems within. Their behavior is counterproductive to their efforts to improve the city’s image.
Election Day cannot come fast enough.