An Unhoppy Easter Tale of Letting Go

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[by Susan Ashline]

This was an Easter of growing pains – his, not mine.

Saturday evening, I thought my son would be interested in an Easter Egg hunt at the community center. This was a cool one, a flashlight hunt for kids grades five and up. Reed had spent the previous six years in fear of egg hunts, refusing to do them. He was the kid who stood there when the whistle sounded, then cried as all the other kids stampeded and scooped up the eggs in front of him – *snap* gone. But this year, at 11, he decided he wanted to do egg hunts. He just wanted the candy.

I was so excited. All these years, he’d deprived me of taking him to Easter egg hunts.

Reed asked a friend of his to join him at the event. We got there early. The gym was dark but for flashes of disco lights, and there was music playing. A group of girls arrived. They went into the gym alone.

We waited longer, and eventually Reed’s friend showed up. His father said “hello” – then left.

The boys lingered in the entrance waiting for another friend, while I sat in a chair in front of a TV, next to a table with magazines. Another group of kids arrived and went into the gym. As a parent saw them off, I overheard a staffer enthusiastically shout, “You’re welcome to stay if you want!” Nope. She didn’t.

Reluctantly, I told my own son, “I can pick you up later.” He didn’t want me to leave. I was so relieved.

I thought this was going to be a parent-child event. It hit me hard – the kids were old enough to be sans parents. This was it. The end. Or, the beginning. It was the first event (except for birthday parties) the parents weren’t expected to stay with their children and participate, or help them participate.

I wasn’t ready for this. He’s only 11. And he’s a small 11. I mean, he still sleeps with stuffed animals. How can he be old enough to go to an event without me?

It’s not like I hadn’t been through this before. But when my oldest was 11, I had a toddler in tow. It’s been more than 21 years of attending parent-child events. And now, it’s over. I mean – it’s over?

When the friend didn’t show, the boys made their way into the gym. A staffer offered me pizza. I helped her carry boxes. Ya know – made it look as though I was there to be of assistance, rather than because I was afraid to let go.

While they did their middle-school age stuff in the gym, I walked around outside. But I didn’t go far. What if he needed me to cut his meat?

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No “Freedom” of Information at Monroe County Exec’s Office

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[by Susan Ashline]

At the Monroe County Executive’s office, Freedom of Information requests are more like public records held captive.

I learned the Communications Department is in major upheaval, and my request for public records may not be the only one going ignored.

This is ironic, considering the new County Executive, Cheryl Dinolfo, is pushing to create an Office of Public Integrity to make Monroe County “the most ethical and transparent government in the nation.”

Yet, access to public records is clearly not a priority for Dinolfo. A source tells me the Communications Department has undergone a “complete overhaul” and may not know the status of any Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. There, it is more appropriately SOIL (Suppression of Information).

It was more than three months ago I filed a FOIL request. Though I got confirmation it was received, it’s been months of chasing down the status, all of which has led to dead ends. The agency has gone well beyond the deadline for responding. Simply ignoring the FOIL constitutes a denial. However, my initial request asked for a denial in writing so I could make an effective appeal. Even a denial in writing has been denied me.

Coincidentally, my FOIL involves Judge Vincent Dinolfo, husband of the new County Executive. Granted, Cheryl Dinolfo wasn’t in office when I filed my FOIL request, but she was campaigning (same party affiliation as the outgoing County Executive, and the party’s pick). And now, she’s there. And all of my phone calls and messages have gone ignored, and all of my emails unanswered. It certainly crossed my mind this was personal.

But I even sent a tweet, and that went unanswered, too. In fact, though Dinolfo’s Twitter page has been updated to her title of County Executive, the last tweet from her account was in the middle of December. I can understand social media taking a back seat to other duties, but access to public records should be a priority.

What happens now? Based on total lack of response, I have filed an appeal. Unfortunately, my appeal is required to go to William Napier, Director of Communications, the same individual charged with handling FOIL requests.The same staffer who ignored my original request, emails, and phone messages.

Robert J. Freeman, Executive Director of the State Department’s Committee on Open Government, has issued a verbal opinion stating my appeal should be granted, as the records I request fall under my right of access to government records.

It is a shame I have to fight so hard to get public records to which I am entitled.

When an appeal is filed, the agency is required to respond within 10 business days. If other FOIL requests have gone ignored, this could mean resources at the already strapped Communications Department may need to be almost exclusively devoted to filling FOIL appeals. If the appeals are not answered in the required time frame, the Monroe County Executive’s office will stand in violation of the law. The citizen’s remedy for that is to file an Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules. A judge may award the citizen attorney fees. And we all know who ends up paying when the county gets taken to court.

Let me be the first to drop a complaint in that box at the Office of Public Integrity ribbon cutting.

FOIL APPEAL

FOIL APPEAL

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Don’t Go Fund Me

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[by Susan Ashline]

I’m motivated by a tweet, a business owner posting his GoFundMe page, asking for $2,000 for dental work. His teeth looked horrible, no lie. If anyone needs dental work, this guy does. But should kind strangers be solicited to pay for it? Common sense tells me if he’s running a business, it’s making a profit. Otherwise, why run it? If it’s operating in the red… well, that’s a whole other blog. So if he’s making a profit – that is, enough to cover bills and then some – he’s got disposable income.

The tweet got under my skin. Maybe it’s because I just had surgery and being cooped up indoors on crutches is chipping away at my sanity. Or, maybe it makes sense to be irritated by people who have the means to do for themselves, yet choose to let others carry the load.

Alas, my Don’t Go Fund Me page:

(Update: It appears GoFundMe deleted my account; probably because it asked people not to fund me.)

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Tweeting via Baked Goods

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 Keeping Customer Happy is a Piece o’ Cake

by Susan Ashline

     Someone, somewhere, is rocking my favorite bikini and matching shorts. The theft left a bitter taste in my mouth, but the folks at Darien Lake Theme Park in Upstate New York washed it down with a spoonful of sugar.

     Feeling happy shouldn’t be difficult at an amusement park, but I wasn’t laughing when my clothes and towel went missing at Darien Lake earlier this summer. The park unveiled it’s “Happiness Guaranteed” program just before opening for the 2014 season. It puts a promise on short ride lines and wait times, but what does it say about swiped goods?

     “While we’re technically not responsible for guests’ personal items,” said Mike Melaro, Marketing Manager at Darien Lake Resort, “it doesn’t remove our responsibility to ensure that everyone who walks through the front gate has an ‘incredible, memorable experience. Guaranteed.’ That’s our brand promise.“

     Cake fixes everything. Late night, my boyfriend and I went to the supermarket to get a buttercream frosting cake to help bury my grief and thumb our noses at the thief. We had a special message we wanted written on the cake, but the bakery was closed. An enthusiastic store employee, Ben, told us he’d be willing to give cake writing a try, so we let him. Before eating away my sorrows, I snapped a picture of the cake and posted it on Twitter with the message, “To the loser who stole my bathing suit & shorts @DarienLake”:

Susan Ashline Cake Tweet on Twitter

     Digital Media Marketing Coordinator, Doug Mandell, who runs Darien Lake’s Twitter account, saw the tweet when he started work in the morning.

     “My first thought was LOL,” said Mandell. “My second thought was – oh no. We need to do something.”

     By afternoon, I got a reply tweet from the park, “@SusanAshline When we say #happinessguaranteed, we mean business.”:

Darien Lake Amusement Park Cake Tweet on Twitter

     “Receiving customer feedback via cake was a first for us,” said Melaro. “We knew we had an opportunity to get creative with our response, and I wasn’t willing to let that opportunity go to waste. I talked to our Director of Marketing, Vince Nicoletti, about some options, such as sending a gallon of milk to go with the cake, along with the lost items.”

    They decided to reply in-kind, driving to the supermarket and having their own message written on a cake: “Sorry about that. How about free tickets and a new bathing suit on us?”

     This despite reservations from the bakery employee that, “I’m not sure I can fit all of that on there, but I’ll try!”

      Melaro said he isn’t concerned that replacing the items will set a precedent, because the park rarely receives complaints about missing personal items.

     The icing on the cake is that the marketing department not only capitalized on an opportunity to make one of its guests happy, according to Melaro, but they had fun doing it. And at the end of the day, the marketing team got its just desserts.

     “We were celebrating our intern Courtney’s last day for the summer, and she was the one to actually go pick up the cake earlier,” said Melaro, who explained that the cake ended up as their celebratory centerpiece.

    Rarely do baked goods serve a dual purpose of goodbye party and social media reply. Now that takes the cake!

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