The Block Island Times

Letters to the Editor, May 4, 2013

May 03, 2013

To the Editor:
The Block Island Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department would like to extend our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Peter Monje.
Pete’s life was too short but, oh my, it was a life well lived!
Pete was a multifaceted human being who did many things and did them very well. One of the wonderful facets of Pete’s life was his engagement with the Rescue Squad. Actually, engagement is not the right way to put this… Pete embraced the Rescue Squad in a great big Monje bear hug! He was a wonderful Emergency Medical Technician and a treasured member of our Rescue Squad family.
As a very intelligent man, Pete exercised his EMT skills at the highest level. He was also a delightful teacher for new EMTs. But far more importantly, Pete had a talent for immediately establishing a bond of trust with his patients.
Pete would zoom up to a rescue scene on his motorcycle and trot over to the patient in his leather jacket with his little orange jump kit under his arm…perhaps not exactly what you might expect your EMT to look like! But then he would begin to treat the patient in his calm and professional manner. That wonderful grin would appear and Pete would interject just the right amount of humor to diffuse the tense situation. We need to remember that our patients are folks who suddenly and traumatically find themselves thrown into a painful and bad place. Yet, within moments, these folks would instinctively know that this Biker Angel of Mercy was there to help them back to a good place.
On one particular call I was driving the ambulance up to the Medical Center. In the back were Pete and a teenage boy with a badly broken arm. This kid was a real trooper but was clearly in pain. Also in back were the boy’s parents looking scared, nervous, and upset. At one point I looked back to check on the situation…and they were all laughing! I don’t know if Pete was doing some kind of mime act or whatever…but it was working. Forgive the bad EMT pun but Pete had them all in stitches!
That was one of Pete’s lessons to us…that laughter is indeed the best medicine. We need to laugh through the pain and tears because it really does help!
Pete will be dearly missed and we should endeavor to remember his life lessons. To this end, the BIVF&R will be planting a tree out front of the Rescue Barn in honor of Rescue Captain Peter Monje. We hope that this will serve as a tangible reminder to us all to embrace the precious gift of life in a great big Monje bear hug…and live that life well. And to remember to laugh through the pain and tears…as Pete taught us to.
Car #50
Block Island Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department

To the Editor:
A grateful thank you to those who participated in the Crescent Beach Dune Restoration Workday last Saturday [April 27]. You accomplished a lot by digging 78 post holes and installing 20 rolls of snow fencing (1,000 feet). With your help and those who participated in the first Workday, the Block Island Community has installed snow fencing in all the beach access paths from Beach Avenue to Scotch Beach.
Our next undertaking is to put up signs to remind people to preserve our beach dunes by not walking or playing on them.
Bill Penn, President, BIRA
Ned Phillips Jr., Chairman, Conservation Commission

To the Editor:
This letter is to inform everyone that our next blood drive will occur on Friday, May 10, from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Block Island School. There are two important things to consider. First, there will be no July drawing. The Blood Center believes there is too much risk in drawing blood during the peak of the deer tick season. So please make an extra effort to make the May drive. Second, and most importantly, concerns the explosions at the Boston Marathon. The Blood Center shipped over 330 red cells, frozen plasma, and platelets to Boston hospitals. It’s now time to replace these supplies. Recently, 750 pints were collected, more than double the daily goal. As a community let’s be strong and make this the biggest drawing in many years. Remember to bring your driver’s license or blood donor card.
Peter H. Greenman
Rhode Island Blood Center Coordinator

To the Editor:
I trust that every resident of Block Island noticed the utter disdain that Interstate Navigation has for us. According to your April 27 article commuter tickets are going up a staggering 50 percent, freight is going up by 34 percent and Interstate says it can’t “keep rates low just because (people) choose to live on an island.” I guess Interstate figures it can insult us since we are a captive audience. I agree with Paul Filippi’s assessment that the rate case lacks disclosure and the Public Utilties Commission should totally reject the commuter increase. But they did not. I just read the April 29 story that the rates were approved unanimously.
The new rates strain credibility. Interstate says 5,000 fewer cars came over last year during peak season. If peak season is about 100 days that means 50 fewer cars a day. Did Interstate prove that with actual numbers? Anyone trying to get their car off for a day last summer must be surprised. Lowering the summer rate for cars also runs counter to island sentiment that fewer cars during peak season is desirable.
When the PUC’s own attorney inquired about residents’ suggestions for higher summer rates, Interstate’s second insulting reply was that island businesses wanted to “gouge” summer visitors but Interstate couldn’t because it is regulated. Interstate happens to be a monopoly. We are not. If Block Island doesn’t provide goods and services visitors can afford, they will go elsewhere. We can’t go “elsewhere” for ferry service.
The Town Council urged keeping existing freight rates and reducing off season rates. The exact opposite apparently happened. I urge everyone to attend the next Town Council meeting to show our support and to protest this PUC decision. Interstate totally ignored input from the Council and from island residents. Maybe we should start to figure out a way to ignore them. Or better yet figure out how to replace them.
Bill McKernan
Amy Dodge Lane

To the Editor:
Here we go again! The Block Island Health Services is facing difficult issues, and the board is trying valiantly to deal with them. But what do we get in the Block Island Times, our source for local news?
We get a truly offensive cartoon by Bruce Montgomery, a candidate in the upcoming board election, purporting to show the Board finally “getting its act together,” but only because the grim reaper was coming to get them if they don’t. (Another candidate, Peter Saxon, made an even more outrageous statement recently saying the board needed to be “cleansed.” As in “ethnic cleansing” and Nazi death squads?) I assume the editors will either put Montgomery on leave until the election or offer the other candidates similar amounts of space so they can campaign, too.
And then there are the front page article and the editorial that focused on whether or not to make public the B.I. Health Services membership list. From the article we learn only that the Board voted not to release the list and that the subject will be discussed again at a later meeting. Also that Bruce Montgomery – him again! – wanted the list so he could “target” specific people who would vote for him. The editorial supported the release of members’ names, dismissing as frivolous the argument that some members had specifically asked that their names not be released and even though other not-for-profit organizations typically do not release their members’ names unless authorized by the member to do so.
Readers may be surprised to learn that at least two important points were omitted from both the front-page article and the editorial. One is that, as with all past board elections, when the ballot is mailed to members, the envelope will include statements from all six candidates making the case to voters in their own words why they think they should be elected to the board. So, unless Mr. Montgomery has something he wants to say to some members but not to other members, he already has the opportunity to “reach the people who may vote for me….”
The second point is that at the same meeting, the board also voted to send a second mailing which would contain additional statements any of the candidates wanted to send. The candidates would write the statements, stuff the envelopes, and bear the cost. The BIHS would provide a set of mailing labels and volunteers to do the mailing.
Please! The BIHS is critically important to all of us. It faces tough issues in a health care system in which some Block Islanders still lack insurance to pay for services used and the insurers cover only two-thirds to three-quarters of the Health Center’s charges. We need a newspaper that both reports facts that can help residents understand the issues and describes fairly the conscientious efforts that the board and staff are making to resolve them. It happens that The B.I. Times is in a good position to fill that role and not just because it is a monopoly that everyone reads. It turns out that the co-publisher, Betty Lang, was a board member herself for several years, participated in discussions on many of these same issues, cast key votes, and knows firsthand both how difficult the issues are and how hard the unpaid volunteer board members work as to assure a bright future for the Center.
Is it too much to hope that The B.I. Times would rise above the fray and use its position and Betty Lang’s knowledge to truly inform island residents? Based on the evidence from last summer and fall, I was doubtful it would do so. I would be happy to dismiss this most recent evidence if the publishers announce that they won’t print more of Bruce Montgomery’s cartoons until after the Board election and if their treatment of coming health center issues is more complete and even handed.
Steve Davidson
Lee’s Ridge Road
Editor’s Note: It was inappropriate for The Block Island Times to publish last week’s cartoon by Bruce Montgomery. I accept complete responsibility for that, and we will not be publishing any more cartoons by Mr. Montgomery on that subject until after the election. — Lars Trodson

To the Editor:
1. Is it appropriate for the cartoonist to use his position with the paper to attack the board and advance his campaign for a seat on it? The Grim Reaper cartoon does exactly that. I’m grateful to hear from you that there will be no more cartoons of this ilk in the coming weeks.
2. Why does The Times send reporters to cover open meetings of important island organizations? Is the goal to inform the public of significant actions and convey a sense of the meeting? Or is the purpose to sell papers by focusing only on topics of disagreement or controversy? The coverage of BIHS meetings in 2012 was not evenhanded. That seemed to change with the arrival of a new editor, but last week’s paper reverted to past practice. On April 22, BIHS conducted a full business meeting, going through a long agenda in a business-like manner. Unfortunately, the public has no way of knowing that, because the newspaper did not report accurately on either the business conducted or the tone of the meeting. Instead, the paper dealt only with one discussion in which there was significant disagreement and did not report faithfully on even that one matter.
Does the public know that we took an important vote to move forward with adopting an Electronic Medical Record? No, it was not reported. Does the public know about the discussion of conference calls or the very important report by our Executive Director on the status of our Health Provider Shortage Area designation and its impact on Medicare reimbursements? No. I’m told you pulled coverage of the quarterly financial report because an updated copy received later was confusing, but that does not explain why other important business went unmentioned.
Selective reporting takes the focus away from healthcare and makes our meetings look like a circus. This is a disservice to both the board and the community as a whole. The board has worked hard to advance quality healthcare, but the public can’t know this when only items of disagreement are reported and the quotes chosen for printing favor ones using loaded words. In the membership list discussion, most board members made it clear they had no desire to suppress the list, they just felt an obligation not to release names without permission. There was no coverage of the many statements made concerning the need to give members a chance to opt out before making a list public. Unfortunately, that intention did not come through when the reporting focused on quotes using words like “cloak of secrecy” and “clandestine.” There was no mention of Pam’s effort to find out what other 501(c)3 organizations do. It was not reported that I said there were quite a number of people who didn’t want their names shared, but that I hadn’t kept track of those requests. Perhaps worst of all, the article did not report that all candidates have had an equal opportunity to submit a statement of their goals and qualifications for a mailing to voters. Nor did it mention that the board voted to handle a second mailing (at the candidates’ expense), giving them an opportunity for expanded campaign statements.
Last summer, after discovering that there were no membership records at the medical center, I began building a list from scratch as new donations came in. When people asked that their names not be shared, I didn’t think it was an issue because membership information had never been shared during my 6 years on the board. I did not add a field to the database. In hindsight, that was a mistake. But even if I had, what we needed to do was to give everyone an equal opportunity to opt out when they joined, and that has never been done. That failure will be corrected in the future.
3. Was last week’s editorial written by someone who attended the meeting on 4/22/13? I have to wonder. It claims that I said “at least one” member has asked not to have his name released. This is a willful misrepresentation. I made it clear that requests for privacy were made by several individuals and that the problem was that we had not offered a systematic way for people to opt out. We know there are people who do not want their names circulated, but we don’t know who all of them are.
The editorial takes a misrepresentation and then further twists it into a false accusation that a single request is being used as an excuse to throw a “cloak of secrecy” over the entire list. It claims it is simple to send out a blanket message to all members and implies that we are unwilling to do that. Neither is true. I explicitly stated a desire to poll our members regarding this matter, but we don’t have a quick and easy method to send out a “blanket message.”
This is not the first time a Times editorial has misconstrued something I said and used it against the board. The same thing happened on July 28, 2012. That editorial misused a statement I made in a private conversation in 2011 with the previous editor and one of the publishers in which I had asked for balanced, unbiased reporting. I had held a similar conversation with the other publisher as far back as 2008. My concerns about reporting go back for years and long pre-date the new editor’s arrival at the paper. My observations years ago were dismissed. Then, much later, they were revived and used to criticize the board. I am hoping greater care will be taken under the new editor’s leadership.
A newspaper is free to take an editorial position, but it should be based on objective facts. Distorting my comments in editorials is wrong. Now that it has happened twice, it feels personal. Both editorials also used the word “paranoid.” As the old quip goes, sometimes even paranoids have real enemies.
4. Why does the reporting consistently make one faction look like responsible critics while painting the board in a negative light? In quoting Judith Cyronak, last week’s article implicitly acknowledges something important that the paper has generally ignored. Judith noted that, given the recent controversy, some people may not want their neighbors to know they are members. Some of us on the board know this to be a fact. We have heard repeatedly from individuals who are unwilling to express any support for BIHS or the board due to fear of retaliation from supporters of the previous Executive Director. Unfortunately, the paper’s coverage ignores the hostility generated by a small group of people unhappy with a unanimous decision the board made last July. In its coverage, The B.I. Times consistently implies that whatever problems exist emanate from a recalcitrant board. It fails to recognize an intimidating tone being set by an angry group and instead sometimes suggests their statements are the voice of “the community.”
5. What is The Times trying to accomplish with its relentless attacks on the BIHS board? Is there a desire to drive out every director who was there in July of 2012? Or just a desire to get rid of a few? Last summer, a group of nine people faced a difficult situation and reluctantly made a unanimous decision, feeling that it was their duty to act in the best interests of the organization. Since that time, those directors have continued to work ceaselessly to protect the organization in the face of an onslaught of misrepresentation and criticism. Yet the board has been undermined by the newspaper and by a small but intense group of critics. Earlier this year, the Nominating Committee reached out to a number of possible candidates for this spring’s election. The goal was to bring in new perspectives and different age groups. Committee members were repeatedly turned down because people were unwilling to step in given how the board has been treated in recent months. Those willing to challenge incumbents were, with one exception, among those who have fueled the maelstrom and worked to deny donations to a vital organization. The Times appears to support those challengers. What is it about their character and qualifications that would make them more acceptable than the people who have been trying to move BIHS forward in the face of adversity?
6. The B.I. Times is our only
paper. Does a monopoly news outlet have a special obligation to practice fair and responsible journalism? I believe it does. Further, I believe a monopoly news outlet in a small town has an obligation to protect the fabric of community. Unfortunately, I believe The Times has done the opposite. The paper took sides at the beginning of this controversy and has participated in fueling a vendetta against the board. With each inaccurate article, editorial, or cartoon, The Times assumes more of the onus for the medical center’s difficulties.
Lars, I do feel that your arrival heralded a new era of professionalism at the paper. I trust that last week’s edition was a momentary slip backwards to habits that have harmed a vital island organization. Block Island faces serious challenges from the external healthcare environment and our community has urgent public health issues needing collective attention. Let’s stop the arguing and work together for the common good. The stakes are too high for this fight to continue.
Kay Lewis
Off Cooneymus Road

To the Editor:
I was at work two weeks ago when my radio went off, signaling the need for EMT’s and police at a house on Old Town Road. Whenever my radio goes off and I’m unable to go on the call, of course I always wonder what has happened. This time I didn’t have to wonder for long. Less than one hour after the initial call to 911, people were on Facebook expressing their sorrow, and changing their profile pictures to photos of this young man. I am relatively sure that this young mans immediate family had not been informed yet, or any other close friends or relatives. How horrible to hear of the passing of a loved one in this way. How horrible to not know any details, to not be able to get in touch with anyone. How horrible to not even know if it was true. I guess the rules of grief and grieving have changed with the internet and social media. But I would hope people would realize that that was not a good medium for announcing someone’s passing.
Kate Musso
Old Town Road

To the Editor:
Maddie Tretheway’s “elephant” is wonderful — a great idea beautifully (and sturdily) executed. It reminded me vividly of the driftwood creatures we used to make on Block Island when my children were young — over fifty years ago! I can still remember a bigger-than-life grasshopper-ish creature, a deer with tree branch antlers and a 6-foot “python” which we decorated with painted scales and red eyes.  None of these, however, were as large, impressive or as strongly built as Maddie’s elephant and, with the possible exception of the python, they would have collapsed under the weight of a person.
Brenda S. Engel
The West Side and Cambridge, Mass.

To the Editor:
I enjoyed working at the Block Island Medical Center for most of my nearly 16 years there. I understand the importance of the Center’s mission and want you to know that I fully support Barbara Baldwin, the new executive director, the staff and some of the board members. I had — and have — difficulty supporting the current officers. I believe their methods of leadership and decision making were and are in a word “flawed” — financial reporting, exaggerating events to blame me, attempts to state facts and their recollections of history remain unfortunate. Boards can decide that new operational leadership is needed. Controlling Block Island Health Services board members had an agenda last year and wanted me out. I get it.
What bothers me most is how it was done — firing me, escorting me to my car and telling people I stepped down. It was humiliating and ridiculous. I could have contributed to new leadership in a well-planned transition and saved considerable time and money. The board has some good people and needs some new faces. I encourage you to choose wisely in the upcoming election of BIHS directors.
Monty Stover
Old Center Road

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