The (almost) top stories of 2010

Melissa Stagnaro

Mid-way through my third year at The Evening Sun, I can say with some certainty that I’m familiar with the year-end routine. That’s why, when Jeff called a meeting to discuss our Year in Review stories, I was ready. Which basically means I’d killed a couple of hours the previous day sifting through all the stories I wrote in 2010.

It was no small task, considering they numbered over 400. And that’s not counting the 80 or so blogs I posted and roughly 50 columns I penned in the last 12 months. Think the ES is getting their money’s worth out of me?

I was pretty impressed with myself for narrowing it down to 10. But, of course, I’m not the only one writing for Chenango County’s hometown daily. Each of my fellow reporters went into that planning meeting with their own lists as well. As you can imagine, it took awhile for us to hash it all out.

It wasn’t a completely insurmountable task. And I’m happy to say no one was seriously injured during the fray. (Don’t listen to anything Brian tries to tell you. It was nothing more than a paper cut. I have no idea why he’s still whining about it.)

I’m happy with our final picks, but all of us thought there were stories which warranted at the very least an honorable mention. So we’ve all decided to blog about our “also-rans.”

Topping my list of was the State Parks saga. Hunts Pond and Oquaga Creek were two of the 41 state parks and 14 historical sites which received a last minute reprieve by the Governor David Paterson right before Memorial Day. Bowman Lake State Park was one of 34 facilities on a secondary list of potential closures, whose survival hinged on the transferal of $5 million from the Environmental Protection Fund to help cover the cost of operating New York State’s Office of Parks Recreation and Historical Preservation.

Thankfully, they all dodged the bullet, but there were weeks of uncertainty. And, of course, there’s no guarantee they won’t be back on the chopping block when budget time rolls around once more.

One story which blow me away this year was the Aeden Waterford scandal. The payroll services company, which had offices in Greene and Binghamton, went out of busineses in August. Soon after, former clients learned they owed in some cases thousands (and thousands) of dollars to the IRS in federal employment taxes. Taxes they believed they had already paid through Aeden Waterford. Now those companies – which number over a 100 throughout Broome, Chenango and neighboring counties – are having to pay for a second time. With interest and penalties, to boot. A federal investigation is underway, but Aeden Waterford’s owner, William Stiles, is still walking free.

Economic uncertainty has continued to reign in 2010. While things are definitely on the upswing, it is a slow steady climb up a steep slope. Jobless claims may be dropping, but there are still millions of Americans out of work.  For once, Chenango County seems to be bucking the trend ever so slightly. Several of our major employers announced the creation of large numbers of new jobs this year, including Agro Farma (featured in the top 10), Raymond and Unison. Other companies have also expanded, and we’ve seen plenty of success stories among our local small businesses. New ventures have been popping up all over the county as well, as entrepreneurs invest in making their dreams of business-ownership a reality. Other long-established companies have switched hands. It’s exciting, really, to see all this potential growth. And I hope 2011 will be even more prosperous for the many diverse businesses which call Chenango County home.

As I scrolled through my past articles, I was actually a little surprised by how much time I devote to writing about education. I cover 5 of Chenango County’s 9 school districts, so I guess that shouldn’t have been a shock. But this year – with the state’s fiscal crisis, each district’s budget woes and all sorts of other drama, and of course the good news stuff – I’d say at least half of what I wrote in 2010 pertained to schools in some way.

Budget cuts made our top 10 stories, but I felt there were other school-related topics which also warranted a mention. Like the narrow defeat of Oxford’s proposed $10.65 million Phase II capital project. After months of planning, the proposal was shot down in a voter referendum by a handful of votes.

Most of my other education related stories fall into three categories: the good, the bad and the ugly. The good includes all the stories we wrote highlighting student achievement and accomplishments in the classroom, on the courts and on stage (of which there were many, I’m happy to say.)

The bad? Basically everything coming out of Albany and Washington D.C. Reform isn’t a bad thing, but when it occurs at the same time as drastic aid cuts and doesn’t include mandate relief, it creates tough challenges for our local districts. Like raising the bar on the state achievement tests AFTER students had already sat for the exams. And the fact that Race for the Top will come at a much greater cost to schools than anyone expected.

As for the ugly, you can probably guess where I’m going to go with that: school boards. There is far too much drama in this arena. Some of it can be attributed to the tough decisions school leaders were forced to make, but not all. I like to think everyone who chooses to serve in this capacity is doing so for the right reasons. But sometimes I wonder if “must play well with others” should be in the job description. Things have been on a more even keel recently, for which I’m grateful. But with this budget season promising to be even more brutal than the last, it probably won’t be long before the kid gloves come off and people start duking it out across the table once more.

My favorite part of my job is the people I get to meet. There are so many people doing great things in our communities. Each one has a story to tell, and in most cases it’s an honor to be the one to tell it for them.

Who knows what 2011 will bring…

Follow me on Twitter … @evesunmelissa.