Editorials

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In an attempt to promote transparency, the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics recently proposed requiring public relations consultants to register as lobbyists if they are trying to influence editorial writers.

That would mean any public relations professionals who contacts a reporter or editorial board in an attempt to get the media to advance their client’s message would be considered to be delivering a lobbying message.

Several New York public relations firms and New York Press Association members immediately spoke out against this proposal, and we side with them and share their concerns.

To force anyone to report to the government before they speak to a reporter seems dangerous, and almost medieval. It treads on freedom of speech if the government is effectively regulating newspaper content, and interfering with a newsroom staff’s ability to independently and objectively judge its sources on its own. On top of that, it is an example of government butting its nose into what are largely privately owned companies — a place it has no business giving orders.

On the surface, it seems as though JCOPE is paying the press a compliment, saying the news media are so valuable that it wants to help preserve the public watchdog’s objectivity. But, in an ironic twist, within the same stroke it would be compromising the independence of the Fourth Estate by controlling its sources.

Freedom of the press is one of the rights America was built upon and relies upon to this day, and this move would tramp on the media’s liberty to print the issues and concerns of the public without needing permission from the government. One of the main jobs of a reporter is to evaluate whether a source is credible and whether a story is newsworthy. Let’s keep this task out of the hands of the government and in the hands of the people who make these decisions every day.

As a newspaper that takes pride in serving the community before anyone else, we stand against this proposal to restrict our communication and we hope you will too.

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The New York State Senate voted last week to eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment, and we hope the Assembly follows suit.

The adjustment is a deduction taken out of each school district’s state aid and was introduced in 2011 to help state officials close a multibillion dollar budget deficit. Five years later, although the adjustment has seen reductions in recent budget cycles, Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) says the state is still withholding $434 million from districts.

There have been unsuccessful efforts to eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment in the past but with Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport), the former chairman of the Senate’s education committee, sponsoring the bill to end it this time around, we are optimistic.

The adjustment was an unfair move that has hit students and educators everywhere hard — the billions of dollars taken from our schools over the last five years could have gone toward enhancing or adding academic courses, buying updated textbooks or making improvements to buildings and athletic fields. The money could have helped educators better implement the new Common Core curriculum and the mandates that went along with it.

Helping to fund education is one of the most important services the state government provides. Aside from the crucial task of shaping the future contributors to our society, the state’s school aid helps even the playing field by equipping poorer districts with the means to provide a level of education comparable to what wealthier districts can give their students, even without aid. To yank some of that money out from underneath them is wrong.

Not doubt securing a financial plan is important to the well-being of a state, but education should not suffer in the search for a balanced budget.

We call upon the Assembly to pass Senate bill S6377 and upon Gov. Andrew Cuomo to support that effort, for the betterment of our children.

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U.S. Rep. Steve Israel is stepping aside at the end of the year, declining to run for another term in the House this November, after what will be 16 years as the Democratic representative for the Huntington and Smithtown areas. But his departure will affect more than just western Suffolk County.

Long Island residents in general should be paying attention to the 3rd Congressional District seat in the coming year. Our officials at the federal and state levels work with their neighboring colleagues to get things done that benefit Long Island — sometimes in a quid pro quo sort of way. That means that no matter the elected body or who our representative is, the priorities and the character of the person who is elected in the next district over from us are important. And with Israel gone, no matter who is elected to replace him, Suffolk County will have two longtime congressman exiting in two years, after Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) unseated Democrat Tim Bishop in 2014.

That’s not to say that new blood is a bad thing.

Zeldin kept himself busy during his first year in the House, authoring several bills. Most recently, he introduced the Earnings Contingent Education Loans (ExCEL) Act of 2015, which aims to help young people manage their federal student loan debt by making the repayment system more flexible, with payment amounts based on the borrower’s salary. And in interviews with this newspaper, Zeldin has called being a newcomer a positive — party leadership supports their freshmen, he said, because they want to help them retain their seats.

We appreciate Israel’s long service to our community. That being said, electing a new point of view to Congress has the potential to be a good thing for Long Island, which is in a state of flux as we try to plan our economic and environmental future.

3rd District candidates, all eyes are on you.

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Narcan, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses, can be administered either through the nose or intravenously. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Ringing in a new year comes not only with celebrations, but also with ideas of what we could do better in the future. While thinking of personal resolutions, we can also begin to think of resolutions for the towns we live in and the people who serve them.

The Suffolk County Police Department went through some major changes in 2015. Shortly before the year ended, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) tapped Tim Sini for police commissioner in light of the recent investigation and indictment of former Police Chief James Burke, who has been accused of beating a handcuffed suspect and attempting to cover up the crime.

This week, former SCPD Sgt. Scott Greene began the first of two trials for allegedly stealing cash from Hispanic motorists during vehicle and traffic stops. He is being charged with seven counts of larceny as a hate crime.

A good place to start for a 2016 resolution could be within the county’s police department.

We hope that Sini will function with transparency as he takes on his new role and keep the lines of communication with the public as open as possible. We also hope he will work well and collaborate with the Republican legislators who have already challenged his appointment.

2015 was a huge year for substance abuse programs and drug summits as well. Officials, from town board members to congressmen, lent their voice to what many are calling an epidemic. While these programs have made great strides, it seems the younger generation, where the fight is really happening, seem least connected to these talks.

Going forward, focusing on drug programs that reach high school and college students may be the best bet. Although the winter break is coming to a close, spring break is right around the corner, and, soon enough, those students will be right back on our couches, enjoying a week off. That could be the perfect time to bend their ears.

As a community, we can make 2016 better than any year before it. Let’s work together to make that happen.

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Suffolk County Republicans assembled at the Legislature building last week to call for a federal monitor to oversee our county police department. They argued that a recent indictment of former Police Chief James Burke was a tipping point, proving that county government could not be trusted to operate independently without supervision. They also cited County Executive Steve Bellone’s appointment of Tim Sini to replace Burke as key evidence supporting their pleas, accusing him of not having enough experience to do the job at the level the county needs.

We don’t disagree with the Suffolk County GOP in saying that the federal government should consider monitoring the county’s police department to make sure it is adequately protecting us and that the taxpayer dollars funding it are being well spent. There should be a monitor — but not solely for the reasons our Republican lawmakers have outlined. There are plenty of other issues concerning the Suffolk County Police Department that a federal monitor could help alleviate.

For starters, we have editorialized in the past about the department’s ongoing relationship woes with the greater Hispanic community, which has had a public spotlight for the last several years. The department has taken some steps to address this issue, but a lot more can be done.

A federal monitor could also make sure our department utilizes its resources appropriately at a time when many elected officials argue that patrols are being stretched too thin and officers are overworked. Better management of resources could also mean better enforcement of the county’s gang population and fight against drug abuse.

As much as we might cringe at the idea of “more government” — especially on the federal level — it would be better than nothing.

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Most kids see hoverboards as the next hot toy, but they don’t know how literal that is.

U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) spoke this week about the dangers of hoverboards shipped from overseas, with batteries that have sometimes burst into flames. He said the type of battery being used in foreign-made hoverboards is unstable if not stored and charged properly.

While this problem seems like the most dangerous reason not to buy a hoverboard this holiday season, there are more concerns shoppers should consider. These boards are serious pieces of machinery. There are hundreds of videos of kids displaying their skills and tricks on hoverboards, as well as many videos of kids wiping out as they try to learn how to maneuver. Everyone who operates a hoverboard should exercise caution with these new devices, for themselves and for those around them.

These machines gain speed quickly and a slight shift in weight can quickly turn into a crash. Parents should consider requiring kids to wear helmets while riding, and should talk about how to use one safely, such as by keeping a certain distance away from pedestrians and staying within certain speeds.

When someone starts the ignition of a car, that person is expected to drive safely, thinking about other drivers and pedestrians on the road. The same should go for anyone on hoverboards, or any other motorized ride.

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It’s easy to get wrapped up in the chaos of shopping for holiday gifts during the December rush. Most of us are trying to get in and out of stores and malls as quickly as possible, but staying a little bit longer could go a long way this holiday season if we all make an effort to buy just one more present.

It doesn’t have to be a big one, like a video game console — although we’re sure nobody would mind that — but we could all buy just one more gift and donate it to a child in need through a local church or charity. There are kids whose parents simply cannot afford gifts, or live in domestic violence shelters, or don’t have parents at all. Those kids deserve a little happiness, too, to know that they are part of a community and that there are other people out there who care about them. We could also consider donating a gift to a hospital or a nursing home, where there could sometimes be people without family to remember them during the holidays.

Our newspaper told a story this week about a 22-year-old woman from Setauket who spent the last month raising money to buy holiday gifts for underprivileged teenagers. Her name is Hailey Del Giorno and she works at Little Flower Children and Family Services (631-929-6200) in Wading River. She is an only child and grew up reaping the bounty of the Christmas morning loot. But that did not deter her from reaching out to those who may be less fortunate, and she has already raised close to $2,000 to provide presents to teenagers she works with at the nonprofit organization.

We also see many local schools raising money to donate toys to those who are less fortunate. The Students Against Drunk Driving club at Mount Sinai raised money for Holiday Magic (631-265-7200), a not-for-profit organization that dedicates itself to making the holidays special for less fortunate children and their families. The club raised more than $7,000 and went shopping at Walmart and the Smith Haven Mall to purchase gifts for 67 children.

We, too, could look beyond ourselves and make our community better this holiday season.

There are strangers all around us who need a friend. Let’s make a difference in one of their lives during the season of giving.

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Colorado Springs is not around the corner. But the effects of a tragic shooting there the day after Thanksgiving have trickled down and made a very real impact on Suffolk County.

We spent much of the fall season interviewing candidates running for various offices, and more than once we were reminded that our county police department was being stretched too thin.

Fast forward a few weeks to the aftermath of Friday’s shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado that killed three and injured nine. Our county police department announced it would be increasing patrols near the five clinics in its jurisdiction as a result. The department also committed itself to training Planned Parenthood officials in crime prevention, which hopefully will provide a more lasting impact on preventing similar tragedies here.

Sometimes there is a disconnect between the national conversation and the small-town scuttlebutt, but this is an example of how one person’s actions can have a nationwide effect. In our case, it is strapping an already taxed police department.

The consequences are real, and there are things we could do on a local level that could perhaps trickle in the opposite direction — up to the national conversation.

We could strive to better care for our neighbors, both through publicly funded mental health programs that provide more access to treatment and more comprehensively deal with mental illness, and by speaking up when someone we know is behaving erratically or speaking in an alarming manner. We are seeing more and more irrationally thinking people commit acts like the shooting in Colorado Springs, in which the assailant targeted people unknown to him. And it seems impossible that none of these perpetrators displayed irrational behavior or thought beforehand.

A strongly connected community is an excellent safety net. We should work to weave ours tighter.

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When most people celebrate Thanksgiving, they say they are thankful for things like their families and friends, and similarly irreplaceable items. Your newspaper staff is equally thankful for them, but we would be remiss if we did not also mention the little things that have kept us going all year.

In our own words, the things we are grateful to have:

Victoria Espinoza, editor of The Times of Huntington & Northport — M&Ms, which have been my constant companion when I’m stressed; Fleetwood Mac, for making me feel like Esméralda; Christoph Waltz, for being alive and reminding me that love is real.

Phil Corso, editor of The Village Times Herald and the Times of Smithtown — The Shih Tzus, Betty and Buster, for carrying on Bugsy’s legacy; Taco Bell’s mobile app; my Casper mattress.

Desirée Keegan, sports editor and editor of The Village Beacon Record — Coffee, for its waking and warming qualities; music, because it’s always there to complement my mood; sports, because they are exciting, challenging and rewarding.

Giselle Barkley, reporter — My new car, which brings an end to a history of car troubles; tea, because it’s one of the few things that keep me warm; Louis C.K., because life’s nothing without some laughter.

Elana Glowatz: online editor and editor of The Port Times Record — My dog, for being a person; Dunkin’ Donuts, for opening 200 feet from my desk; peanut butter, for being my life partner since the 1980s.

A happy Thanksgiving to all our readers, both the longtime subscribers and the ones who picked up a newspaper for the first time today. We are all thankful for you too.

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AIMHighNY, the state’s survey for receiving public feedback on the Common Core Learning Standards, seems to be coming up short.

Board of education members from Huntington Union Free School District expressed frustration with the review system, which was felt across the North Shore this week, and said the survey did not give parents and educators enough space or time to voice their Common Core concerns.

Trustees said the review is specific and tedious, and that the section to submit opinions is “restrictive.”

Upon exploring the site, many of those claims don’t seem far-fetched.

There are more than 24 subsections of the review. At one point, the continual division of a topic into a smaller topic seems endless, and a user may need to go through more than five sections before they can write in their own comments. If a participant wanted to fill out the entire assessment, it would be no small feat — and that’s if time is on your side.

But that is not the case for AIMHighNY. The survey, which opened in October, ends in about two weeks. Schools have even said they are having multiple teachers work on one survey just to submit something.

With the amount of protesting against Common Core we’ve seen throughout New York State over the last few years, should there even be a deadline?

Perhaps like rolling admissions in college, rolling submissions in Common Core may work. Of course reviews need to be evaluated, but with the current public opinion of Common Core, it may be a good idea to continually check parents’ and educators’ suggestions and not limit their time to a four-week period.