A Facebook Posts Sparks a Disagreement, The Investigation Shows Possible Serious Ethical Issues
Shortly after Ed Day was elected as Rockland County Executive back in 2014, he was offered a weekly column in the Rockland County Times, (RCT) and he accepted. Almost immediately this caused an issue with some county Dems who cried foul.
Things got heated and threats to pull advertising from The RCT were allegedly made on a routine basis. Approximately 18 months later a solution was negotiated via email and text where owner and publisher Dylan Skriloff, fearful for his business and the loss of a reliable but small revenue source, acquiesced agreeing to publish a column allegedly written by Democratic members of the County Legislature.
Unlike The Rockland Star and Ramapo Times which are completely online, The Rockland County Times is predominately a print publication where space is limited and hard costs are associated. With print publications shrinking in size or going out of business, space is an increasingly valuable commodity in the printed news world.
One would think that the issue would end there, but it didn’t as things would get far worse.
County Executive Day’s column was published on page two, the County Democrat’s column was often printed further back on a page with a higher number. This, the Democrats claimed loudly and voraciously, was still unfair.
Apparently more threats and demands were made as the Democrats were allegedly no longer happy with a free column courtesy of The RCT; they too wanted to be published on page two of a privately owned publication alongside County Executive Ed Day. They didn’t always submit a column in a timely fashion, some of what was written wasn’t suitable for publication and at some point the column was written by staffers and not the legislators at all.
The Rockland County Times has been “Rockland County’s Official Newspaper Since 1888” as the masthead announced proudly for 129 years.
Then things changed.
Were Republicans Complicit, Asleep at the Wheel or were their Efforts Blocked?
Both political parties are entitled in New York State BY LAW to designate an official newspaper that advocates their political principles.
According to Article 5, Section 214 of of The Laws of New York, Consolidated Laws, County, General Powers of a Board Of Supervisors,
…The members of the county legislative body, whether such body be denominated board of supervisors, county legislature or otherwise, or, in the city of New York, of the council of such city representing respectively each of the two principal political parties into which the people of the state are divided, shall designate annually the newspaper published within the county to publish the concurrent resolutions of the legislature. Such designation shall be in writing and signed by a majority of the members representing each of said political parties. In making such designation, consideration shall be given to the newspapers advocating the principles of such political party, the support of its nominees and the extent of the circulation in the county. However the fact that a newspaper is an independent newspaper not advocating the principles of any political party shall not disqualify it from consideration. If there be but one newspaper published in the county, such newspaper shall be designated…
A quick look at the Rockland County Legislative agendas posted online going back to 2012 shows that at the first meeting each year, the “organizational” meeting, one of the tasks was to designate the two ‘official’ County Newspapers.
This has happened without fail in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019.
In 2017 this customary order of business was curiously absent from the agenda. In fact, it wasn’t until March of 2017 that the County Legislature made any Official Newspaper designation but when they did, it was Our Town and The Journal News who got the nod. The Rockland County Times, after 129 years of being the “Official Newspaper” of the county had been left out in the cold.
Apparently county Republicans tried to advocate for The Rockland County Times but claim that their efforts were blocked. If this is in fact true, Democrats on the legislature broke the law and Republicans allowed it to happen as the law is very clear.
Rockland County Times owner and publisher Dylan Skriloff filed an Article 78 petition challenging the decision dropping his publication as an “official county newspaper.”
None of this would have come to light if it hadn’t been for a Facebook post made by Rockland County Legislator Alden Wolfe.
On November 8th, 2018 we were alerted to what was described to us as a “Trump-like post” attacking the media and a small business in Rockland County. We read the post and in light of accusations made by the President against the media and which has been soundly criticized by Democrats, we considered the post by Rockland County Legislator Alden Wolfe to be disturbing and hypocritical. It appears to be a Trump-like attack on the media and on a small Rockland County business. The Facebook Post made by County Legislator Alden Wolfe included a link to The Rockland County Times and among other things ended with:
Truth 1, Fake News 0
The issues were that there was far more to the story, some members of the County Legislature went after a local small business and we were already aware of some of these background issues. Our Town News replaced The Rockland County Times as an official newspaper which is an interesting choice. This is not to suggest that Our Town isn’t a fine publication however if the County Legislature is so concerned about mastheads, why then were they perfectly content to post public notices in a publication that claims on it’s masthead of being the “News Leader for Orangetown, Clarkstown and N. Bergen since 1973?” Rockland County is made up of five towns; if the intention was to ensure wide dissemination of public notices, why then were residents of the towns of Haverstraw, Stony Point and Ramapo left out while potentially those living in North Bergen County were included? The website does now say “Our Town News Serving Readers and Businesses in Rockland and North Bergen”
What County Legislator Alden Wolfe did not know is that we were well aware of the alleged shakedown by the Democrats regarding the Rockland County Times. We had spoken to someone employed by the County Legislature a few years earlier and offered columns to all as often as they wished and were actually told by this employee that it would be more of a problem for us than it was worth. This person confided in us about the issues and the threats of ad revenues being pulled from The Rockland County Times in back in 2015-2016.
Was Pulling Ads From the RTC Retribution?
As mentioned, we had a very frank conversation with a county employee in 2015 and were told that publishing these columns would be more trouble than they were worth.
Mention was made on more than one occasion that the Democratic-controlled legislature was unhappy with the RCT.
Democrats in the Legislature were offered a column in the RCT but were unhappy with the placement.
County Legislator Michael Grant: “Actions have Consequences”
According to documents obtained by The Rockland Star, Legislator Michael Grant claimed in a meeting that “actions have consequences.” Apparently the motivation for the RCT being dropped was because Legislator Michael Grant and County Legislature Chairperson Toney Earl felt that the Rockland County Times gave preferential treatment to the County Executive in terms of printing a regular column that sometimes included photos, that the County Executive’s column was on the second page of the paper and sometimes on the cover. According to this document “Mr. Grant stated at a Legislative committee meeting that as a result of the content of the Rockland County Times, it had to face the consequences of its acts and decisions. The consequence was being removed as an official County newspaper or even a supplemental newspaper.“
As previously mentioned, Rockland County Times owner, editor and publisher Dylan Skriloff hired an attorney who filed an Article 78 proceeding against the Rockland County Legislature.
The County legislature filed a counterclaim against the Rockland County Times essentially claiming that by continuing to claim on their masthead that they were the “Official newspaper of Rockland County since 1888”, the public were being misled.
Legislators Claim Legal Conflict of Interest
Four county legislators have signed affidavits crying foul. Legislators Christopher Carey, Lon Hofstein, Laurie Santulli and Patrick Moroney have all signed affidavits claiming among other things that the counterclaims brought against The Rockland County Times were unauthorized and pose a conflict of interest.
The affidavits essentially state that Legislative Counsel Elana L. Yeger, Esq. and Alejandra Silva-Exias, Esq. asserted counterclaims against The Rockland County Times on behalf of some of the legislators but not all. The affidavits go on the explain that as Legislative Counsel Elana L. Yeger, Esq. and Alejandra Silva-Exias, Esq. perform ‘defined legal duties for the entire Rockland County Legislature which is made up of 17 legislators and that each of these legislators did not authorize Legislative Counsel Elana L. Yeger, Esq. and Alejandra Silva-Exias, Esq. to bring these counterclaims and that no resolution was proposed or voted on by the County Legislature authorizing litigation against the Rockland County Times.
We filed numerous FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) including one where we requested a copy of the resolution proposed and voted on by the Rockland County Legislature authorizing the counterclaims to be brought against The Rockland County Times. To date, nothing has been found however in fairness, the County has asked for more time to continue their search. According to a legislator we spoke with, they won’t find it because it never happened.
The affidavits continue by stating that it is ‘beyond Legislative Counsel’s duties to bring litigation and to represent individual legislators in court proceedings.
The affidavits close by stating that the legislators oppose the bringing of these counterclaims against The Rockland County Times and that Ms. Yeger and Ms. Silva-Exias representation of the interests of some legislators but not all represents a conflict of interest.
Due to errors on the part of the Rockland County Times’ attorney, the members of the County Legislature who brought the counterclaims were granted a default judgement by Judge Eisenpress. Judge Eisenpress was elected as a Family Court Judge but as we have recently verified, Judge Eisenpress also hears Article 78 motions.
The Rockland County Times, feeling strongly that they had not been adequately represented by this attorney, hired a new attorney in an attempt to overturn the default judgement granted by Judge Eisenpress.
As distasteful as it was to learn that members of the Rockland County Legislature used their positions to bully a local small business, what happened next has raised serious ethical questions.
Tomorrow: Did Ed Day Break the Law by Placing ads in the Rockland County Times? The Alleged Actions of Legislature’s Attorney Raise Serious Ethical Questions