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Someone Places Caution Tape Outside Home of School Spending Critic

Jeff Diamond, who runs the Freeze the Budget blog, said someone may have placed the yellow caution tape in front his driveway to warn him that his criticisms of the school district were out of line.

A Blind Brook parent who runs a blog that is critical of the school district’s spending says someone may have placed yellow caution tape in front of his home Saturday night to send him a message.

, a member of the district’s Citizens Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC) who also runs a blog called Freeze the Budget, said the yellow caution tape was placed in front of his Loch Lane home sometime between 9 p.m. on Saturday and midnight on Sunday.

He said his wife, Kozue, noticed the caution tape just after 9 a.m. Sunday morning when she went to pick up the newspaper from the family’s driveway.

Diamond’s wife called him outside when she saw the tape. He immediately called the police, who came to his home to document the incident. Diamond said the incident likely happened before midnight because a family member arrived home around that time and saw the tape, but did not mention it to Mr. Diamond or his wife until after Mrs. Diamond saw it the next morning, According to an incident report filed with Rye Brook police, the tape was hung from two light poles at opposite ends of the driveway.

Rye Brook Police Chief Greg Austin told Patch on Sunday that Diamond only asked that the incident be documented. Police are not conducting an investigation and don’t have any suspects. Austin said the case is closed pending any further developments.

Diamond said that while he has no proof of who hung the tape in front of his home, he is sure that the incident is related to opinions he has expressed on his blog in recent weeks, which have criticized both Blind Brook Superintendent William Stark and certain school board members.

“I’m not saying that a board member or the superintendent put caution tape at the end of my driveway, but there are people who are friends with them and support them,” Diamond told Patch on Sunday.

“You can’t rule out that it’s just a teenage prank, but in the context of what’s been going on, it was put there as a message to me that somebody doesn’t like what I have been putting on the blog.”

“I don’t see why Blind Brook residents would be upset at all about the blog,” Diamond added. “It’s all been factually-based and just me expressing my opinion.”

Those opinions have elicited several comments on Diamond’s blog in the last week, especially. As a member of the CBAC, a group comprised of residents that advises the school board on matters related to the district’s budget, Diamond has been privy to several conversations between the committee members and school officials.

He recently posted several items about what he views as school officials trying to stifle community input.

In a Feb. 3 blog post, Diamond wrote about an incident in which he and fellow committee member Debbie Faust were asked to come to the school district’s office after they met with Blind Brook High School Principal Gina Healy to talk about ways to lower school spending. Diamond said they met with the principal as private citizens. However, after the meeting he received a phone call from Stark and board members Sheri Zarkower and Lawrence Engle, who were on conference call, asking him to come to the district’s office “to discuss protocol,” Diamond said.

That incident preceded a meeting last Tuesday between the CBAC, Stark, Engle and Zarkower—who serves as a liaison to the committee—in which Stark told members of the CBAC that issues related to staffing, curriculum and class sizes should not be part of public recommendations the CBAC would unveil in March after the superintendent presents his proposed budget today, Feb. 14.

Diamond said he and other members of the committee were shocked that after four months of work, they were being told that they could only make certain recommendations in line with what school officials viewed as appropriate. Last year, members of the 2010 CBAC committee—of which Diamond was not a part—were asked to sign confidentiality agreements not to publicly discuss matters related to the budget with anyone other than board members or the superintendent. The board reversed that rule last year. However, Diamond said he still believes the committee is being censored.

“Now they’re trying to censor an entire committee when the committee didn’t make the kind of recommendations they wanted,” he said. “To tell a group of citizens or volunteers who have been meeting for four months that you can’t do that [make certain recommendations] is just wrong.”

“It appears that the CBAC is symbolic,” Diamond said. “It appears to be more of a PR opportunity to make the community feel like they have real input.”

Jack Robinson, chair of the CBAC, said he disagrees with Diamond’s assertion.

“I think the board is listening. I don’t think the board is clear on what it expects from the CBAC.”

Robinson said he and other committee members were surprised when school officials told them certain topics could not be addressed in the group’s recommendations. However, Robinson stressed that the group has yet to officially unveil its recommendations about this year's budget, but would do so at a public meeting in March.

He said Diamond’s blog is very helpful “when it’s factual” and compares the situation in Blind Brook to other school districts that are facing challenges such as increased benefits costs.

“When he gets into personal discussion about individuals on the board, that’s not very helpful,” Robinson said. “There’s really no room for all this personal stuff to get in the way of what our work is.”

Robinson added that the committee would be looking  to promote a more sustainable teachers’ contract going forward—one that likely won’t resemble the current four-year contract. He added that “the committee has a right to have its own point of view” and its “up to the board to decide which of our recommendations are workable.”

Stark and Zarkower, who also spoke to Patch on Sunday, said they were in no way trying to censor the committee and that they appreciate public input. However, some issues—such as curriculum and staffing—are outside the purview of an advisory committee such as the CBAC, they said. 

Zarkower said some of the things the CBAC has discussed are not feasible. She said it wouldn’t be right for school officials to allow the committee to spend their time on issues that the school board does not have the authority to address or cannot address in this year’s budget. As examples, she pointed to the committee’s suggestion to consider eliminating staffing positions such as the directors of guidance and athletics and changing parts of the district’s educational programming, such as foreign language.

“I would not be intellectually honest if I let these good-minded citizens on the committee go through the hoops of making numerous recommendations that we [the school board] are not prepared to take away from the superintendent,” she said.

“If you look at the list and what they’re asking us, [some of it] is not an efficient way to run a school district like Blind Brook.”

Zarkower said she was not aware of the incident that occurred at Diamond’s home when contacted by Patch Sunday afternoon. Zarkower, who said she tries not to read Diamond’s blog, said the rhetoric has become more heated in the debate about the district’s spending. Zarkower said she has been on the receiving end of a lot of contentious emails—not necessarily from Diamond—that have been overblown. She said the heated nature of the school budget debate caused the district to ask a police officer to attend its

“I’m surprised by the level of what I viewed as personal attacks that are not proportionate to what I feel the issues are at this time,” she said.

Zarkower said if this weekend’s incident is at all related to Diamond’s blog, then it’s time for the heated rhetoric to be toned down.

“It reminds all of us that when we speak or post, whether it be in a blog or in emails, things that can be deemed contentious—it’s incumbent upon us to realize the harm our words may have, whether written or spoken.” 

Stark said he also was unaware of the incident that occurred at Diamond’s home. He said that it was “totally inappropriate for anyone to become involved in a physical activity in any nature” related to expressing their displeasure with Diamond's blog. He said a more civil discourse is necessary, especially in regards to comments that have been posted on the blog.

“There is a tendency for people to become emotionally involved in events that are taking place. I don’t know if that’s the necessarily a good thing,” he said. “You are going to get people who have very strong emotional feelings about these things. Even with the best of intentions, I don’t know how you control that.”

Stark said the district values the CBAC’s input, but that there is a certain protocol by which members of the committee have to abide. Stark said when he became superintendent, it was his idea to create the CBAC. He said it is unfair for anyone to claim he does not respect or promote open dialogue between the community and school officials.

“I very much support the concept of the Citizen’s Budget Advisory Committee,” Stark said. “We tried to define more clearly for the CBAC the areas that we wanted them to delve into—the emphasis being on the financial rather than the instructional.”

He said that when certain things are addressed in a public forum such as a blog, there’s a tendency for issues to become larger than they need to be.

“I don’t think this is the type of issue that becomes the defining moment of the Blind Brook school district and the superintendent.”

When asked whether the CBAC and the Blind Brook community would feel that their input has been considered when he unveils the district’s proposed budget today, Stark said: “I hope so.”

“I believe that the people who are on the committee are really good people who are doing something that more people should do, which is volunteering their time,” Stark added. “I hope that doesn’t get lost in all of this.”

Diamond said that there should be room for public debate without someone resorting to tactics such as placing caution tape in front of his home.

“What we’re talking about is a parent in the community who is doing things that are showing bad behavior and bad judgment.”

“It’s a sad commentary on a certain type of person that lives in the community and most likely sends their kids to the school,” he said. “If they want to engage in this way through threats and intimidation and bullying, then I’m more than willing to stand up for the community and say that I’m putting the facts out there.” 

Sam Marcus February 14, 2011 at 03:23 PM
OK, let me understand board member Zarkower's respons: "Zarkower said if this weekend’s incident is at all related to Diamond’s blog, then it’s time for the heated rhetoric to be toned down.." My interpretation - he had it coming.
Jenny Frank March 07, 2011 at 12:28 PM
if this district is not careful no one will want to move here; this can be seen w/ katonah.
Ender Berett November 27, 2012 at 11:23 PM
That is really interesting that someone would put caution tape outside of someone's house. I guess it's more mysterious and threatening than using personalized caution tape ( http://www.bannerstakes.com ), but it is still odd. I would think that they are just trying to unnerve them, but not threaten them.

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