Written by john owens, email@example.com Wednesday, 17 April 2013 12:58
Journalism isn’t easy. But often it’s simple — just ask the right questions, and keep asking them until you get answers. The responses usually will show the people involved to be saints or scoundrels or some gradation in between. And from that, action—ranging from commendations to indictments—can flow.
A superb example of the power of a journalist’s questions is Manhasset Press Editor Pat Grace’s inquiry into the trees cut down along Manhasset’s Shelter Rock Road.
Lined on both sides with gorgeous flowering trees, Shelter Rock Road had long been one of the most scenic drives in our area, especially when the trees were in bloom or the leaves were turning.
But Superstorm Sandy and the following nor’easter damaged some of the trees and took down utility lines running over and through the branches on the west side of the road. Some maintenance was surely in order.
Instead, virtually all of the trees were cut down. I recently counted more than 100 stumps from Northern Boulevard south, past the Long Island Expressway, down into the Village of North Hills. The term “clear cutting” came to mind.
It was much the same just east on Searingtown Road.
If you or I had gassed up a battalion of chain saws and destroyed these trees, I believe we’d be serving very long prison sentences for the landscaping equivalent of war crimes.
But if a county contractor does it, the act is FEMA-reimbursed public works.
As soon as the trees came down, every reasonable person asked: How did this happen? Why did it happen?
Marvin Natiss, mayor of the Village of North Hills, had been asking those questions for months. Similarly, County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) had tried to get answers about numerous trees cut down in Glen Cove’s Welwyn Preserve.
Nobody seemed to be getting very far until County Comptroller George Maragos visited the Anton Community Newspaper office and Pat Grace asked him those questions.
Initially, Maragos answered with an overview of the county’s management of and payments to the lead tree-cutting contractor, Looks Great Services of Huntington.
But that didn’t answer Pat’s questions.
Upon request, Maragos followed up with a detailed statement explaining that Nassau had already paid Looks Great nearly $35 million and was reviewing another $28.8 million in bills. Also, that there was a system in place to ensure approval for all cutting and that an e-ticket system tracked the destruction and discarding of each tree.
Pat published Maragos’ response in the Manhasset Press. And reading it, I’m sure others had the same question I did: Huh?
All of the numbers and policies provided didn’t answer the two fundamental questions: How did this happen? Why did this happen?
Almost the instant Pat’s article hit subscribers’ mailboxes, other news organizations began pressing the county on this issue. Within days, Maragos announced an audit of various tree-removal contractors’ books. Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice subpoenaed records, too.
Thank you, to both Maragos and Rice for trying to find out where the money went. And I trust they won’t stop investigating until they uncover the facts about the trees along Shelter Rock and Searingtown roads. When that news comes, we all will have to thank Pat Grace.