Friday, June 2, 2023

City Council Points Fingers at Public, District Attorney, Media Outlets, Former City Managers, Surrounding Towns, Fire Union

The embattled Newburgh City Council seems to be pointing lots of fingers these days.

The Newburgh News, LLC conducted an investigation into city officials covering up crime from the public and published a series of stories last week (see a full list of the stories here). Those articles also exposed the city’s ongoing censorship of the public’s criticism. Other media outlets then picked up on what The Newburgh News first revealed and a television station reported their own battles. A media firestorm ensued, leaving city leaders scrambling to do damage control.

City leaders are now pointing fingers and taking jabs at everyone around them, including the public, the Orange County District Attorney, several media outlets, former city managers, surrounding towns, and the union representing the city’s firefighters.

The Council has made repeated attempts to censor many citizens speaking badly about them at public meetings. Council members have frequently scolded the public for making social media posts that went against the city-issued narratives after the Council said last September that they would begin to “control the narrative” of the city’s image.

Following The Newburgh News’ exposé, Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler appeared on television and stated, “Mayor Harvey is very accessible but I would not say that the rest of city management are as accessible as they have been in the past.” This was his only televised comment (see video below).

The City Council and City Manager Todd Venning issued a press release telling the public that Hoovler stated the City of Newburgh is not reporting crime to state and federal agencies (see press release below). Hoovler did not state that, according to the video aired on television. Hoovler then issued his own press release accusing city officials of creating a false narrative.

Hoovler revealed that city officials asked him to cut back on press releases regarding crime in the City of Newburgh. Councilman Anthony Grice wrote to Hoovler on social media, “Prove it.”

Grice’s comment was part of a lengthy rant to Hoovler complaining about a slew of issues. Hoovler refused to be provoked and did not engage in a social media argument.

The Council has also launched attacks on several media outlets covering the story.

Grice took to The Newburgh News’ Facebook page to make numerous complaints and also defended the City’s censorship at public meetings.

Venning and the Council issued a joint press release complaining about News 12’s coverage about city officials hiding crime data from the public. City officials went as far as threatening News 12 with a lawsuit when Hoovler’s statement did not favor the local politicians. Grice also had a lengthy back-and-forth argument with News 12 on social media.

Grice also posted a lengthy rant to The Mid-Hudson News complaining about a news story they published.

In his post on The Newburgh News’ Facebook page, Grice accused previous Newburgh city managers of not following a policy that he claimed City Manager Harold Porr implemented decades ago. This alleged policy mandated police chiefs and other city administrators to get the City Manager’s permission before issuing press releases. The City Manager is appointed by the City Council.

After The Newburgh News reported that the City of Newburgh initially denied an open records request, Grice claimed other local municipalities sometimes do not answer Freedom of Information Law requests at all. He also complained that The Newburgh News did not investigate other municipalities to determine if they are hiding crime or complying with FOIL laws. To the contrary, a February article praised the Newburgh Town Clerk’s Office for their immediate response to a FOIL request about crime in the Town of Newburgh.

The censorship issue stems back to a series of public comments lashing out at the Council following a fatal fire on Lander Street last year. The public has continuously demanded adequate fire protection, but Mayor Torrance Harvey has censored citizens at several meetings who criticized the Council (see video below).

The public has widely criticized city leaders for only keeping four interior firefighters on duty during a shift to cover the entire City of Newburgh. In addition to the four interior firefighters, an assistant chief coordinates the scene from outside while two drivers operate equipment on each of their fire trucks.

Local 589, the firefighters’ union, has continuously objected to city’s staffing cutbacks and closing an entire engine company. Council members have repeatedly shifted the blame and pointed fingers at Local 589 for understaffing the fire department. The Council has repeatedly refused to increase the amount of firefighters on duty because Local 589 has not accepted a new contract offered by the city management. The most recent contract sets a minimum staffing level but does not prohibit city officials from going above that minimum.

In addition to withholding crime information from the public, city leaders have also withheld information about numerous destructive fires. Following the fatal Lander Street fire in June of 2022, the City of Newburgh has not issued any press releases about any fires. Numerous two-alarm and three-alarm fires have plagued the city since then. The Newburgh News has reported on multiple fires after learning about them from other sources.

The next regularly scheduled City Council meeting will be held on Monday, March 27, 2023, at 7:00pm, at Council Chambers. The public is permitted to attend and voice their concerns at the meeting.

Source: News 12
City of Newburgh Mayor Torrance Harvey screams at a critic during a council meeting last year.

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