Dear IDA Chairperson Sussman,
During and after the July 29th meeting of the New Rochelle Industrial Development Agency you made a series of allegations to the effect that my report on recent staffing changes was false, that I had made no effort to seek comment from City Hall prior to running the story and that in your personal opinion my article was defamatory.
As you will recall, I was the only person in the audience so clearly the entire farce you put on was for my benefit.
Other than the NRIDA board and one City employee, the room was empty. To the best of my knowledge, the NRIDA board does not make audio or video tape recordings of its meetings, there is no stenographer present, and your meetings are not live broadcast on cable access television (yet). I, on the other hand, do make audio and video recordings of IDA meetings, take notes, archive meeting agendas and take still photographs.
So, when you announce you want to make a statement “for the record” I take that to mean that you want me to make a record and then publish your statement so people other than seven in the room that day know what you said. As promised, I have accommodated your request by publishing, without comment, an audio and video recording of your statement as well as an unofficial transcript last week.
You had your say. Now I will have mine.
Also for the record, I was present at the June meeting of the IDA when the “staffing changes” involving Jeremy Schulman and Michael Freimuth were announced and when the NRIDA board voted to create the position of Assistant to the Secretary of the NRIDA Board. Mr. Freimuth, Commissioner of Development, and Mr. Schulman’s boss, stated that Mr. Schulman was taking on new responsibilities in the planning department and that he, Freimuth, was now going to be more “hands on” with the IDA. Mr. Schulman, the board was told would retain the title of Executive Director of the IDA but Mr. Freimuth would now be involved with the NRIDA on a “day to day” basis.
In explaining his purpose at the meeting, Mr. Freimuth said the NRIDA counsel had advised that without creating some formal position for Mr. Freimuth, there would be no legal basis for him to have access to any and all IDA documents. As his announced intention was clearly for the purpose of running the IDA, he would need this access. The NRIDA board voted to create the position and then voted again to appoint Mr. Freimuth to that position.
The current Secretary of the NRIDA Board is LeRoy Mitchell, a political appointee and volunteer. Mr. Mitchell is a perfectly amiable person who serves his community but for you or anyone else to pretend that Mr. Freimuth is now Mr. Mitchell’s “assistant” is absurd on its face. The absurdity was readily apparent to other NRIDA board members who made humorous remarks about the idea of Mr. Freimuth being Mr. Mitchell’s assistant.
It is, to me, entirely reasonable to draw the conclusion from all of this that Mr. Freimuth is taking charge of the NRIDA and that Mr. Schulman is being pushed aside. As the change was made just days after the OSC publicly released an audit report that was highly critical of NRIDA it is also a statement of fact that the change came about “in the wake of” the IDA audit and to draw the conclusion that there is a connection between the long-term systemic failures described in the report, all of which happened under both Mr. Schulman’s watch and yours.
If making this rather obvious conclusion public somehow hurts Mr. Schulman’s feelings perhaps he ought to consider a career in the private sector where promotions and demotions of staff are not a matter of public concern. Mr. Schulman and Mr. Freimuth are, however, prominent municipal employees, holding important titles, and their performance or lack-thereof is a matter of public concern.
After the meeting I informed you that your assertion that I had not attempted to confirm my story with officials at City Hall is entirely false. By now you have had ample time to confirm that prior to the June NRIDA meeting I left a message with Michael Freimuth’s secretary seeking information as to who was now running the NRIDA. I also left a long and detailed voicemail with Jeremy Schulman on that same day. I also made calls to Kathy Gilwit but she did not pick up her phone and I did not leave a message.
Not only were these attempts to report out the story made prior to running the story but they were made prior to the meeting. I was well aware of what was planned before it was announced and understood perfectly well the context.
I do not view the failure of City officials to respond to requests for information from me as anything unusual as I have been reliably informed that City Manager Chuck Strome has let it be known that he does not want anyone working for him communicating with me unless absolutely necessary (i.e. FOIL requests, personal business such as obtaining a park pass). This has been the case for some time and certainly not a reason for me to hold a story awaiting comment that, past being prologue, will never come.
As I told you that day, if City officials are not going to respond to my requests for comment, I will go with what I have. Mr. Strome’s rather odd notion that I have some sort of obligation to screen my stories with him first and portray news that I report from his point of view is beyond ridiculous. The Mayor’s notion, which I believe informs Mr. Strome’s attitude, that New Rochelle officials — including elected officials — have some sort of obligation to Noam Bramson, to staff or New Rochelle as a whole to refrain from making public criticism of the City of New Rochelle or its administration is not just bizarre but anti-democratic and un-American.
I would note that Mr. Freimuth and Mr. Schulman were both present as you read your statement on July 28th. They both knew your statement regarding my effort to verify my information with them to be false. Whether they admitted this to you, withheld this information from you or simply lied I cannot tell but it is most certainly false to say I did not make any effort to report out my story before it was published and they both know this to be the case. I made multiple efforts and took the time to attend the NRIDA meeting where the changes were announced and the next meeting where you read your wildly inaccurate statement.
Your assertion that the only change regarding Mr. Schulman is that he was taking on additional planning department responsibilities begs a rather obvious question — if all that was happening in June is that he was taking on additional responsibilities within the Development Department why make any announcement at all? If all is as you say, then none of what occured has any bearing on Mr. Schulman’s role with the IDA. Instead, 10 minutes of the meeting was taken up with these “staffing changes” which you now wish to portray as entirely meaningless.
This makes your statement after the meeting — that my article was “defamatory” — particularly ironic. In fact, if you knew that Schulman and Freimuth ignored my requests for comment and made your claims anyway then it is YOUR statement that was defamatory — a knowingly false statement with the intent of damaging my reputation.
Fortunately, for you, the libel laws also require that the source of the defamatory statement be credible and as anyone who has ready the Comptroller Audit Report of the organization you purport to run would know, you are not a credible source of information.
It is precisely for this reason that I published your remarks without comment and left them there for a week. Your lack of credibility is a matter of public record established by the Office of State Comptroller which concluded that the organization you lead failed by every measure of their audit.