A move by Cobleskill Mayor Linda Holmes to strip the 175-year-old Times-Journal of its designation as the village’s official newspaper failed Monday.
Mayor Holmes had intended to replace the T-J with the Mountain Eagle/Schoharie News, published by her friend and Middleburgh Mayor Matthew Avitabile since just December 2016.
But after longtime residents, and T-J staff and management objected to the surprise change, trustees all voted against Mayor Holmes’ move.
“I think it is a very stupid decision,” said Sandy MacKay, a former Cobleskill mayor and trustee when the public was allowed to take the mic. “The T-J is the newspaper of the Village of Cobleskill.”
Typically, reorganizational meetings are cut and dry with a routine list of appointments and designations.
Monday’s was anything but that.
After Mayor Holmes and trustees spent about an hour in a closed executive session, they returned at 8:45pm to reorganize.
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Then, Mayor Holmes quickly made her way through her appointments and designations with no objections from trustees.
As she did so, Bruce Tryon, a lifetime resident of Cobleskill, president of the Cobleskill-Richmondville School board, and sales manager for the T-J, was the first to raise an objection, asking if he could address the board.
But Mayor Holmes said that because the executive session had gone on for so long, she wasn’t taking any public comments.
When it was pointed out that “Public Comment” followed the appointments and designations on the agenda, she then said she’d take them later.
But first, trustees voted to accept Mayor Holmes’ list—including the change in newspapers--with no comment.
Finally allowed to speak, Mr. Tryon asked why the village was replacing the T-J with a start-up.
“We have two papers in Schoharie County,” answered Mayor Holmes. “We should at least try the other one…if only for a year. I’ve done some research…” though she didn’t specify what research.
“Are you familiar with their circulation in the village?” asked Mr. Tryon in reply. “I’ve lived all my life here. I can’t believe you made that decision. It’s a disgrace.”
When a newspaper is designated as “official,” a municipality must use it to advertise things like meetings, public hearings, and resolutions; the larger the circulation—thousands versus hundreds—the more residents will see those ads.
After Mayor Holmes said the village would save “a little” money advertising in the Mountain Eagle, T-J owner and Publisher Jim Poole pointed out again, that that’s because rates are based on circulation.
“The purpose of a legal paper is to reach the public,” he added. “The Mountain Eagle is a decent publication, but our coverage far exceeds what they do here. I don’t see any reason for the change.”
Neither did John Jarvis, a 50-year Cobleskill resident, who said when he saw the agenda, he thought the switch was a typographical error.
“The Times-Journal has been around so long and covers so much in and around Cobleskill,” he said, echoing Mr. MacKay’s words.
Making his own case, Mountain Eagle Managing Editor Tim Knight, who’s said their circulation is growing.
“We’re only asking for a fair hearing and a fair shot,” he said.
But Mr. Tryon took the mic again, asking for a resolution to rescind the change.
Trustee Howard Burt made the motion and newly-elected Trustee Becky Stanton-Terk seconded it, but after Trustees Tom Johnstone and Nancy VanDeusen voted in favor of it, Mayor Holmes asked Mr. Burt to “rewrite” his motion, appearing concerned that trustees were uncertain what they were voting on.
Mr. Burt made the same resolution—rescinding the change to make the Mountain Eagle the village’s official paper—and it passed, unanimously.
Mayor Holmes did not vote.