A Birthday Message


Ten years ago today, my life changed immeasurably. As I held you in my arms for the first time, I realized that I had never truly known love until that very moment. The unconditional love that a parent feels for their child is something that can never be described in words. I hope that you have the opportunity, one day, to feel it as well.

Your birth was a gift to this world and especially to those of us closest to you. You were Nana and Pop's first great-grandchild and if there was anyone as joyful as your mother and I that day, it was them. I am so thankful that they had the opportunity to spend the time that they did with you. I know that they live on in your memory and are looking down with pride at the young man you have become.

So much has changed in the past ten years and I know that it hasn't always been easy for you. In your short life you have experienced loss and confusion, frustration and sadness. I know that I have made mistakes that have affected you.  The past is behind us now, baby boy, and the future is so bright. 

Through the light of your love, I have found the patience and strength to become the best man I can be and the father that you deserve. And you... although you can be a big old pain in my butt... you are a brilliant and beautiful, witty and charming, well-rounded guy, that any dad would be proud of. 

Our family dynamic has changed dramatically in the last ten years, but the one thing that has remained constant is my love and devotion to you, my sweet boy. You are blessed to be part of one big beautiful group of people... a big family of grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, cousins, moms and dads... all of whom love you just as much as I do. This is a wonderful time, my love... enjoy it! 

Happy tenth birthday to you Lu-Dog!

May God bless you and watch over you for many more birthdays to come. 

xo, 

Daddy

Honesty... That Lonely Word

When I was nine, I wanted to be a baseball player. 

I was never on an organized team and, as an only child, I often found myself playing the game alone… with a tennis ball. 

It was me versus the garage door. 

Our two car garage featured doors with a Dutch barn motif - 16 square panels, topped with four equal size windows, creating 20 perfect squares. The design made the garage door a perfect backstop for pitching practice, with it's clearly defined strike zone. 

My grandparents didn’t like that game. They worried that I would chip the paint, crack the faux detail or worse, break a window. 

I thought they were crazy. 

My grandpa was always convinced that if you used something too often, or without taking the utmost care, it would break. 

“Stop changing the damn channel,” he’d say. “You’ll break the knob off.” 

The knob did eventually fall of and we upgraded to a digital television. Still, I think he was too neurotic about that stuff. I knew that I had a good enough arm to avoid broken windows. Though, the ball did get away from me sometimes. 

It was a bright spring Saturday, in the late afternoon. My pop was at work and my nana was washing dishes. Through the kitchen window, she had the best seat in the house for my game. She even engaged the pitcher in friendly banter from the stands, warning him that if his grandfather catches him throwing that “damn ball against the garage, he’s gonna get it.” 

It was the top of the ninth though, and my team was up 3-0. It was a full count, with two out and two men on (second and third). All I had to do was catch it off the garage and get it over to first base and I would win. 

Maybe it was nana’s yelling, or maybe it had just been a long game, but something happened and my inside slider got away from me and hit one of the garage windows. 

This wasn’t the first time I had hit a garage window, but it was the first time I heard glass shatter and the scream of what I imagined a banshee might sound like. It was just Nana who was now standing at the screen door, wooden spoon in hand, screaming about how my pop was going to be home soon and that I was sure to get a spanking. 

I probably wasn’t spanked as often as I should have been, but the thought of a spanking from my grandfather still sent waves of fear through my skinny little body. 

I sat at the end of the driveway, panicked. 

I thought of one million stories I could tell to avoid blame, but I knew none would work because nana saw the deal go down. 

I thought that, perhaps, I could sully her name… call her a liar. I would have to convince my grandfather that my nana, his wife, a person that he had clearly known longer than he had known me, was living a life of deception. It was then that I saw grandpa’s pick up driving up the street toward our house. 

There would be no time for me to formulate such a grand a story. My only choice was to tell the truth. 

Instinctively, I knew that I had to tell my grandfather the truth before he noticed what had happened or, worse yet, before my grandmother told him. So, I raced up the driveway and planted myself in front of the garage door with the broken window. 

As he slowly made the turn into our driveway, I started to cry hysterically at thevisions of grandpa’s belt on my behind. He barely had the truck in park when I started pleading. 

“Please poppa. I’m sorry. I broke the garage window.” 

I was sobbing. 

“I was playing bayyyy ace buh uh all… and, and, and… I’m suh uh reeeeeee… ee… ee…” 

He climbed out of his truck, looked up at the broken window, and then down at me. He smiled. 

“We’ll fix it pal,” he said as he turned and walked toward the screen door. 

The seeds of a valuable lesson were planted at that very moment. 

Years later, as I look back on this and similar encounters, I realize that no matter what “good excuse” you have, no matter what “believable story” you can get away with, or no matter how easily you can shift blame, the best possible outcome in any situation can only be achieved by remaining open and honest. 

Don’t mistake this for some “cherry tree” story. I have been mired in some form of deception more often than I would like to admit. 

It is human nature to feel the urge to deceive. This is understandable because it is scary to think about how vulnerable we become when we are honest. 

It is only recently that I have started to dedicate my life to living honestly and openly. This means being honest about who I am and what I believe in. This means being open about my mistakes and my transgressions. This means being the first to hold myself accountable and never trying to avoid responsibility. 

It isn’t an easy thing to do and I am far from mastering the art. 

My recent comments regarding an alleged theft inside town hall, both here on my own website and in various online forums, have been met with mixed reviews… particularly from my biggest critic of all; myself. 

Do I really believe that if someone else were in power that this would have been prevented? 

Do I really believe that there could have been some measure, in hindsight, that we could have taken to prevent this alleged theft? 

No, I don’t and you certainly can’t fault a government for trying to pick up the pieces and at least attempt to come up with a solution to fix such problems. 

What bothers me is the stream of information that comes out of town hall. Sometimes it is contradictory, sometimes it is inaccurate, and sometimes it doesn’t come at all. 

When you begin a conscious attempt to live honestly, you begin to tune in on a different level. You listen to and digest information more carefully and you become more aware. You also begin to demand honesty from the people around you, though it comes naturally when we let our guard down. 

I know that I have become more critical of my government in recent months, but it is because I recognize the success and the light that honesty, openness, and transparency can bring. Therefore, it troubles me to think that something so simple as being honest about our mistakes, our weaknesses, or our own responsibilities can be so out of reach, particularly in government. 

After all, without these ingredients, can leadership really exist?

Who's Zoomin' Who?

Like many here in Southold, I have closely followed the ongoing media coverage of an alleged theft inside Southold Town’s justice court. However, as the story has unfolded, I’ve become increasingly concerned about the inaccuracy of the information that the public has received.

While some people are quick to blame the media for these inconsistencies, they fail to recognize that much of this information has come straight from town hall. Even the town supervisor, in an piece that that he recently penned for the Suffolk Times, lays blame on the publication. 

He writes, “An editorial published in the April 10 issue of The Suffolk Times, which seeks to hold people accountable for the recent revelations with bail accounts and the Southold Town Justice Court, fails to consider several facts. Primarily, it is simply impossible to include facts that are not yet known.” (Source

This would be a fair statement had all of the facts and the finger pointing not come from the supervisor himself. 

On March 27, 2014, just one week after the investigation was made public, The Suffolk Times reported on a town board vote to hire AVZ Certified Public Accountants to conduct an audit of all justice court accounts, as well as a vote to accept the resignation of the employee involved in the alleged theft. Most importantly, the story reveals the administration’s first public comments on the subject. 

Mr. Russell said that while AVZ also conducted the town’s most recent independent audit, the scope of that financial review did not include justice court receivables, which he said are audited each year by the New York State Office of Court Administration. 

Mr. Russell added that he believes the state court system will ultimately need to take preventative measures. 

“We’ll be having discussions with the court administration,” he said. “This rests with them and this town wants answers.” (Source

In the days that followed, information came to light contradicting the supervisor’s previous assertion that it was the job of the New York State Office of Court Administration (OCA) to audit and oversee the finances of the justice court. 

When SoutholdLocal pressed Mr. Russell on the issue, he responded, 

"The town has an annual audit done of each department, including the justice court. The audit consists of the general operational procedures of that office. The report has noted deficiencies and discrepancies each year for the past few years. We have brought these to the attention of the judges and have requested corrective action. To date, no such action has taken place." 

"The bail account is held in trust by the justice court. It is not part of the general allocations of Southold Town and not subject to our audit. The reports required by New York State's OCA are detailed and lengthy. At any time the OCA sees irregularities or discrepancies, it has the full authority to request an audit be performed by the New York State Comptroller’s Office." 

"In this instance we rely on our judges, who are monitored by OCA. We cannot make an elected official take action. We can only request it. It should be noted again that any accounts monitored by OCA, such as fines, etc., or any account held in trust by the justice court, such as bail, etc., are not part of the general allocations of the town and not subject to the audit performed. All reports filed with OCA are copied and sent to the town board. The OCA has oversight of these reports, not Southold Town." (Source

Mr. Russell further contradicts himself in a similar story published by the Suffolk Times: 

The town is now looking at ways to increase oversight of the same court system that the town’s external auditors found to have repeated “discrepancies and deficiencies” in record keeping over the past three years, said Supervisor Scott Russell. 

So far — despite meetings involving town officials, auditors and the justices — those previous audit findings have not been addressed by the judges, he said. 

“We rely on our justices to run our justice courts,” Mr. Russell said. “I can’t direct an elected official to do anything.”(Source

Later in the story: 

Mr. Russell also told The Suffolk Times that justice court receivables are audited each year by the New York State Office of Court Administration. 

But David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the state courts, said the state gives only “guidance and support” and has no authority to review or audit town courts unless it is asked to. 

“If they alert us that they’d like us to come in and do an audit we will, but these courts are under their watch,” Mr. Bookstaver said. 

Mr. Russell said Tuesday that he had been told by the justices that OCA was receiving monthly reports they would use for an audit, and relayed that to The Suffolk Times in a March 26 interview. 

“That might have been a misstatement on my part, but again, I’m not an attorney,” he said. “I have to rely on the judges to present the information to me.”(Source

Still later in the story: 

Still, Mr. Russell said, audits conducted in 2010, 2011 and 2012 by AVZ Certified Public Accountants — the town’s external auditors — uncovered numerous and repeated examples of “poor record-keeping” within the courts. 

Those audits had not focused on the justice court specifically, but instead examined compliance and procedures in all town departments. 

But AVZ did identify some court-specific issues, including outstanding checks that were more than a year old, as well as monthly reports to the state that were late, according to copies of the audit provided to The Suffolk Times. Mr. Russell said these issues have been noted by auditors for years. (Source). 

The conflicting information contained above begs the questions: 

  • If the second incarnation of this story is true, why was Mr. Russell so quick to blame the OCA? 
  • Why was there no mention in the earlier stories about these alleged “inconsistencies” found by the independent auditing firm? 
  • More importantly, are we really expected to believe that the current administration has no power in managing a town office (justice court)? Isn’t it staffed by union employees who essentially answer to the town board? Doesn’t the town board and town comptroller manage the justice court’s budget? Are we really to believe that the town board has no power in holding other elected officials accountable? 

The real insult to injury here is the “Equal Time” piece I quote in my first paragraph, in which Mr. Russell complains that The Suffolk Times “seeks to hold people accountable for the recent revelations with bail accounts and the Southold Town Justice Court…” 

I would argue that the only person who has made a clear effort to place blame is Mr. Russell. In the end, the local media has simply attempted to get straight answers to some very simple questions that have nothing to do with “an active investigation.” 

In the end, it really doesn’t matter whether this administration’s failure to communicate simple facts is the result of some cover-up, or its inability to understand the responsibility it has to the public. Either way, we’re in trouble - because the only thing more dangerous than a crooked government is an inept one.