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Jeremy Boyer: Open records laws make a difference

For me, there's a period of several weeks from mid-January into March that I think of as "awards season."

No, I'm not talking about the entertainment industry's run of shows: Grammys, Oscars, Golden Globes, etc. I'm talking about a group of journalism contests for which we prepare entries around this time of year using stories, photos, videos and other content we've published the previous calendar year.

The work of preparing entries is a bit tedious, but for me, there's certain reward in it — and I'm not referring to the actual awards we've been fortunate to win over the years.

The reward personally comes from the chance to look back over a year of terrific journalism produced by the people who work at The Citizen and In the day-to-day rush, it's easy to lose track of the big-picture impact a good community newspaper has over the course of time.

As I've put this year's entries together, something that jumped out at me was the number of important stories our staff broke using the state's Freedom of Information Law. FOIL, and the federal version now as the Freedom of Information Act (or FOIA), protects that vital premise that the public has a fundamental right to know what the government is doing.

In the past year here, reporters have brought forth big stories using FOIL requests to get key documents. There was an investigative piece into an Aurelius fire in which county and state officials arrived at different conclusions. There was the series on a state Assemblyman's taxpayer-funded community liaison who had some questionable time-sheet entries, among other issues. There was the battle, requiring us to spend considerable money on a First Amendment attorney, to secure records from a county authority on a lease deal it made.

I could rattle off about a half-dozen more stories from 2017 in which FOIL was indispensable in getting the information reported to our readers.

I'm offering this summary in order to illustrate the importance of an annual nationwide awareness campaign about the importance of government transparency. Sunshine Week, organized by the American Society of News Editors and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The Gridiron Club and Foundation, kicks off Sunday, March 11, and runs through Saturday, March 17.

Over the course of Sunshine Week, we'll provide editorial cartoons, special columns and a few news stories that will give readers some information to consider about the importance of open records and meetings.

A great resource for everyone to check out is, and you might want to follow @sunshineweek on Twitter.

In our state, another terrific tool is the New York Committee on Open Government site ( Also check out the federal Office of Government Information Services (

For our classrooms out there with an interest in Sunshine Week, I encourage you to check out the Newspapers in Education program page set up by the New York News Publishers Association: There's some excellent materials there for talking with students about the importance of this issue.

Our view: One size may not fit all with parental notification of school bullying

The family of a boy who committed suicide after being the target of bullies at school has become the face of an effort to mandate family notification of bullying at schools in New York state. But while it might seem like an easy thing to fix, some say that parental notification can sometimes add to the problem of a bullied child.

An upstate couple said that neither their son nor his school ever told them the boy was having trouble with his peers, but on the day he shot himself, the 13-year-old left his parents a note saying "I just can't deal with all the bullies" and that he was "done with being pushed, punched, tripped."

Legislation under consideration in Albany would require parental notification. But while establishing this rule might naturally seem like the right thing to do, there is another side of the coin.

Because some students get bullied because they are gay, lesbian or transgender, LGBT advocates argue that mandatory notification policies violate a student's right to privacy by outing them to their parents and that these students might be reluctant to report bullying to school officials because their families might not be the least bit understanding or supportive about their sexuality or gender identity.

There is compelling evidence that some families are blindsided by revelations that their child has been bullied. And children with supportive home lives might benefit greatly by having the adults in their lives know what's going on in school.

But if parental notification has the potential to make a student's life more chaotic, rather than less, schools need to be careful about how to proceed.

There needs to be way to find a compromise. Rather than mandate a rigid statewide policy regarding notification, it might be better if New York schools retain some flexibility. It might be better to be somewhat general in what is revealed to families in cases where specific information about a student might cause more harm than good.

The Citizen editorial board includes publisher Rob Forcey, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.

Letter: Drugs kill more people than guns

The violence and failures of Parkland should never be forgotten. While the media plays people's emotions and they jump on the emotional bandwagon brandishing their hanging ropes for the NRA, another killer marches on claiming 27 lives per day — drugs! Most of which are courtesy of big drug companies.

In 2016 we had 38,000 deaths due to firearms and nearly 60,000 deaths due to drugs. But, people rail against the NRA and its affiliates accusing them of having "blood on their hands." People and politicians are screaming for more laws to prevent this from happening again. If laws worked then the SAFE Act would be working in Syracuse, reducing gun crime, but it's not. Criminals and deranged people do not heed the law; if they did we would not have the need for most laws.

In 2015 Hillary Clinton accepted $336,416 from Big Pharma for her campaign. In 2016 $152 million was spent by Big Pharma to influence legislation. Big Pharma has two lobbyists for every member of Congress! In 2017 over $250 million was spent by Big Pharma in political contributions.

The parents of children that have fallen victim to drugs had the same love, hopes, dreams and expectations for their children as the parents of children in Parkland! Their anguish is no less than that of other parents suffering the loss of a child. All too often the issue of drugs has hit home in our area and New York state.

People and politicians are so polarized in the beliefs that they cannot effectively communicate any solid solutions. New laws cannot prevent or legislate greed or evil in anyone's heart. Politicians need to step back away from contributions and get to the root cause of both issues. For someone to criticize a politician for accepting NRA money and not for accepting Big Pharma money is hypocritical at the very least.

The basis for many laws is to protect us from ourselves, not an inanimate object. In the meantime our country is being robbed of its youth, parents of their children and possibly the nation's future. We have experienced a societal and cultural shift the past few decades and not for the better; it may take the same amount of time to get us back where we need to be.

Tom Adessa