The police report should have been released sooner

Members of the Saranac Lake Village Board are clearly looking to out the person, or people, who leaked a police report to journalists that shed some light on an altercation between Mayor Jimmy Williams and former village Manager Eric Stender at the village offices last month.

The village board narrowly rejected a resolution proposed by Trustee Matt Scollin on Monday that would have compelled each trustee to submit a signed statement to Saranac Lake Police Chief Darin Perotte attesting to the fact that they did not leak the report. Three of five board members — Rich Shapiro, Tom Catillaz and Kelly Brunette –voted against the resolution.

We’ve heard from readers who say that village board members should’ve voted to find out who the leaker is — assuming that person, or people, were in fact members of the village board. The question the village board should be seeking to answer is not who leaked the report, but why.

This was a matter of great public interest and the village government had, until this week, outright rejected attempts to obtain this information through the formal process of Freedom of Information Law requests. It is our belief that this police report, with things such as phone numbers and eyewitness names redacted, should have been made accessible last month through the Freedom of Information Law when media outlets, such as the Enterprise, requested it.

By not releasing even a redacted version of the report, the village opened itself up to allegations of an attempted cover-up and opened the floodgates for leaks, rumors and speculation.

Allegations of workplace violence lodged against a mayor — particularly allegations that led to the resignation of a top village official, the village manager — are, of course, going to come to light. Voters deserve to know what happened, they deserve to know as many facts as possible, and they deserve to be able to make up their own minds about what those facts mean for the decisions they make come Election Day.

Eyewitnesses, particularly those who are not elected officials, also deserve to share what they saw with law enforcement without fear that their privacy could be violated or that they could be retaliated against.

That is why when the Enterprise put out a story on the contents of the leaked police report, we made the decision to not share the full, unredacted document. We also made the decision to not name eyewitnesses. Both decisions were intended to protect the privacy of those eyewitnesses. We stand by those decisions today. Two of the tenets of ethical journalism, from the Society of Professional Journalists, come to mind: “Recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast,” and “Realize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than public figures and others who seek power, influence or attention. Weigh the consequences of publishing or broadcasting personal information.”

The village board made the right decision when it voted on Monday to release a redacted version of the report. The village board also made the right call to launch an investigation into whether or not village policies were violated, and further voting to launch a review of the village’s workplace violence policies.

The village board made early missteps in its response to the allegations. It should not have attempted to meet in private, which would have violated the state’s Open Meetings Law. And the mayor should allow the investigation to move forward. Ultimately, though, we hope that the village board can find a way to move forward and work together in good faith as this process plays out. It probably won’t be easy, but nobody ever said public service is.


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