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by Kathleen Moore

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Happy endings

By Kathleen Moore
Tuesday, July 14, 2009

One of the truths of this industry is that the end of a story is not as interesting as the beginning. If I write a story describing a problem and a potential solution, I want to go back a few weeks later and find out if the solution worked. I want the happily-ever-after ending. But my newspaper doesn’t.

After all, we need reporters out researching a new story about a pressing issue in desperate need of a solution. There’s not enough time to do a story rehashing a previous story with nothing new to say except, “And it all worked out just like they hoped.”

And if you’re scanning the paper and you see my rehashed story, you naturally conclude that something has gone horribly wrong. You’re going to feel cheated if I waste two minutes of your life just to say that everything is fine.

But I suspect some readers do want to hear the happily ever after. I’m always curious about how it all worked out. So here are two “endings” to stories I wrote about a couple weeks ago:

The Magnolia Tree

The story: A gorgeous tree on an street median was chopped down, without warning, so that city workers could repave the street and narrow the median. They had good reason to narrow the median — so emergency vehicles can get through in the winter — and they said the narrowing forced them to cut so much of the tree’s roots that it was unsupportable.

But the resident who had planted elaborate gardens on the median and cared for the tree was nearly in tears by the sudden deforesting, and in this tree-loving city, nearly everyone who heard her story was on her side. City Council members were upset, saying she should have at the very least been notified in advance.

“I don’t believe the first notice a resident gets that a tree’s health is in danger should be the sound of a chain saw,” Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard said.

Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen apologized to the woman and offered a deal: if she would regularly water the trees, he would plant larger-than-normal saplings of her choice on the median.

Happily Ever After?

She’s getting not one, not two, but FIVE magnolia trees to replace the one that was chopped down (as well as several other trees that were also removed). And they’re all going to be quite tall, by sapling standards. By all reports, everyone is happy.

The Drunken Driving Arrest

The story: A Schenectady police officer makes a mistake and winds up patrolling in Rotterdam, where he conducts a traffic stop and discovers an allegedly drunk driver. He takes the driver back to HQ, only to discover he arrested the man outside of jurisdiction. Two weeks ago, prosecutors were concerned that the case might be thrown out — even though a Breathalyzer test showed that the man was legitimately drunk — because of the officer’s mistake.

Happily Ever After?

A probable cause hearing was held last week, but this one is still in a holding pattern. The judge has not yet issued a ruling. (You see why we didn’t write about it? B-o-o-o-r-ing.)

Usually, these hearings are cut-and-dried: A Breathalyzer is enough, Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said. But, in this case, if the judge is being strict, the officer had to have probable cause to pull over the driver, PRIOR to discovering that he was drunk. The defense attorney has successfully subpoenaed the police car camera to see what actions by the driver could be seen before the traffic stop. I haven’t seen it, so I can’t tell you whether or not it supports the officer’s allegation that the driver hit the curb several times. The driver says he didn’t hit the curb.

I do plan a follow-up on this one when a decision is made because I want to look further into the issue of incorrect patrols. I don’t yet know exactly how an 18-year veteran of the force ended up in the wrong municipality, but I think an explanation of that would be of interest to the Schenectady taxpayers who have repeatedly said they want better police coverage.

One final note on the arrest: I inaccurately said in my story that the officer could make an arrest 100 feet outside of his jurisdiction. Actually, the law is 100 yards. Defense and prosecution agree the officer was well beyond that limit.

 
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