Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
  • entries
  • comments
  • views

About this column

by Chris Sherwood - Commentary about matters concerning Chemung County

Entries in this section


I said back in July I was going to take some time off from doing much with the website, especially on social media. Pfft, that lasted about two weeks and I was back at the drawing board.

If you haven't noticed already, there's been some changes made to the site. In an effort to make the site more mobile friendly, I did away with the category tabs that broke up the site according to each township in the county. Well, I didn't do away with them per se, those sections exist, but they're hidden away. Along with that, we won't be offering reports from town and village boards anymore. We only had a small handful of reports coming in to begin with, and they were time consuming. I encourage folks to attend their local municipality council meetings. 

With that in mind I broke the news into "World/ National", "Regional/ State" and then "Local" which focuses solely on news within Chemung County. Many people told me they wanted more focus on local news, and that's what we'll try to do. Additionally, we continue to run stories from over the border in PA by Lonny Frost of First News Now. 

An idea one of the moderators came up with was "Today's Top Stories", a place that has the hottest news first and easiest to find. After a day or two those stories are relocated to the appropriate sections discussed above and remain open for conversation. Life is busy, so if you want to know the big stories of the day, that's the place to start. 

The "ET Weather Center" continues to be popular, ( so long as I remember to update the widget code ) and offers all the weather news you need right at your fingertips. 

This Summer I switched the site to a cloud based server which was WAY more affordable than the virtual private server (VPS) we were on, thus ensuring the longevity of the site. Just don't get me going about that "refundable money" on my account that suddenly wasn't refundable once I dropped the money for the cloud. Still, the site was faced with insurmountable costs to continue on the VPS so in the end it was a good thing and we shouldn't need to do any PBS style fundraisers anytime soon. 

A couple sections were made "Members Only", available only to those with an account for the site. "Teal's Tavern" is a place for more fun chat, jokes, or just to check in and tell others how your day is going. The "Local History" section has lots of great historical photos from around Chemung County and is also for registered users only. Once again this holiday season "Chemung County Holidays" will reappear with new pictures and content so I encourage every one to sign up for an account, it's free and only takes a minute. 

In addition to trying to write more myself, I continue to look for local folks with a knack for writing who want to become part of our "Community Writers" section. I'm happy to say we've recently added a column by my old friend Dan who writes "Cyber Arms Computer Security" and I'd like to add more. If you or someone you know is interested in joining the team, I'd love to hear your ideas !

We may tweak the site logo and header a little bit in the future, but I've been advised to stick with what people are familiar with. We'll see. I'm also living in hopes for the slight, ever so remote chance we may have better access to high speed internet here in the hill someday soon, and am thinking of new ideas for if that day comes. I'm not holding my breath waiting for that to happen though. 

I think that's about it, at least the major stuff. As always, I appreciate everyone stopping by and reading or joining the discussion. I also am grateful for the folks who take the time to write and send in a regular column or are willing to help with the upkeep of the site, if only telling me when I'm being a bonehead. LOL It's because of you all that the site is doing so well. 

Thanks !



Last April after a couple videos showing incidents of violence in the Elmira City School District shocked the community, I wrote here that it was getting hard to tell the difference between the local schoolyard and the local prison yards. Parents and students feared for the safety of the the kids just trying to get an education, teachers spoke off record of a lack of strong leadership in some of the schools. As the problem drew more media attention, it was an embarrassment to the community. I said if the problem wasn’t resolved, there needed to be changes in the staffing from the top down. 

With the start of the school year the following September, there was a change in leadership in the schools, namely a new principal at Ernie Davis Academy, Carrie Rollins. As part of our son’s orientation there we walked the halls prior to the start of the new school year and I noticed an air of change before the first bell rang. There seemed to be a plan, including a de-centralized school administration with offices located throughout the building. What we also noticed was a responsive school administration and at nearly every turn the message of excellence and personal responsibility reinforced. At school functions over the past school year I witnessed a strong principal with an excellent rapport with the students. Someone had a plan, and was working that plan, not just at EDA but across the district.

As a result there didn’t appear to be any reoccurrence of the sort of large scale violence we saw last year throughout the school year. 


Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 12.03.25 PM.png

I spoke with Elmira City School District Superintendent Hillary Austin recently, and as a parent congratulated her on the district’s success in the improvements made this past year. I asked what she thought the key to the district’s success was. Austin told me, It was definitely a great year for the Elmira City School District.  I believe that we have solid leadership in place, within all of our buildings, and together, they developed solid building management plans.  We have strong systems in place to support student success.” She also cited the focus on the district’s community schools initiative which strengthens the relationship between the district and other community agencies. The initiative also puts additional services in the schools for both the students and their parents. 

The “home/school” connection is incredibly important in supporting the success of our students,” said Austin, citing the district’s goal to build strong relationships with families. 

Look, we all know that there will be fights in school. Always has been, always will be.  Adolescence and hormones demand a pecking order be sorted out, we’ve all been there. Hell, our own kid got into a scuffle, on his last day of school no less. However students should be more worried about a pop quiz than being hospitalized during the school day, and the Elmira City School District appears to be making strides when it comes to the safety of our kids.

It’s all too easy to take notice of and report on bad things that happen in the community. Too often once our attention is diverted to the next crisis and, focused on that, we forget to look back and recognize the good people that are working on a solution. I’ve looked forward to writing this for the past several months, and want to shine a light on the good that is being done in our schools. Congratulations to not only the Elmira City School District and the school administrators, but the teachers and parents as well. Congratulations to the students themselves, for taking responsibility for their actions and in doing so better representing their community. 

It was a great school year according to the superintendent, and I agree. Keep up the great work. 



2016 Election Endorsement

As is the tradition every election cycle, newspapers across the country will prepare and publish their endorsement of local candidates seeking election. Usually an “editorial board” will sit down to interview the candidates then put together a list of who they think would be the best candidates would be and publish it to the community. 
Here at Elmira things are done a little differently as there is no editorial board. Truth is, there’s really no staff… yet. With no intent to diminish the contribution of the community writers and those who frequent the site ( honestly, it would be nothing without them ), day to day operation of the site is generally a one man show. In past elections I have sent candidates a questionnaire to fill out and return to publish on the site. That’s worked well in the past for conveying information about the candidates to the voters. Then for some political races I would take it a step further to learn even more about the candidates and the issues they discussed before offering an endorsement on behalf of the site. 
I set out preparing to do the same thing for the upcoming elections, getting ramped up in the weeks leading up to the primaries. While doing so I came to a conclusion:
Who the hell am I to tell you how you should vote ?
As small as it is, Chemung County is diverse when one takes into consideration the many townships and villages. An issue may affect the citizens in West Elmira differently than in the Village of Van Etten, residents in a subdivision in Big Flats may think differently than the folks in North Chemung. ( An argument I make against consolidating town governments, highway departments, etc., but that’s a discussion for another day. ) In none of those or any other communities would a resident want someone who doesn’t live there telling them how they should be doing things. So while I have a good general idea of how things are in the communities across Chemung County, I don’t know every nuance or detail of issues that are being discussed as well as those who live there and deal with them first hand. 
I also prefer to keep the site somewhat neutral, at least as much as possible. There’s enough biased media reporting out there, it’s time for something different, if only in the initial reporting since discussion is largely what the site is about. 
That’s not to say I don’t have opinions of various candidates, I certainly do, and know who I would be voting for if able to in various races across the county. However when speaking for the site, I’ll keep those opinions to myself. 
Still, I feel the need to offer an endorsement of sorts. 
I make an endorsement for you, the educated voter. 
American apathy for the political process is at least somewhat understandable when talking about the clowns in Albany or Washington D.C., but when it comes to our own towns and villages, the educated voter still has the power to decide who will represent them at the local level. More importantly, they have the power and ability to hold them accountable and keep in close contact with them should the need arise. Despite living in New York State where the Electoral College and pundits will immediately call a win for the Democratic candidate every time thanks to the larger urban areas such as Buffalo, Rochester and NYC, the educated voter still has the ability to determine the outcome of what happens in their own backyard. The educated voter has the ability to determine the future of their community.
One need only look at the recent Democratic Party’s Mayoral primary in Elmira to see how close a local race can be and how much difference just a handful of educated voters can make. Or how much difference could have been made if even more people took the time to vote instead of the actual dismal voter turnout in the city this primary season. 
Do your research on the issues facing your communities. Take a look at the candidates’ platform and if you can’t find where they’ve taken a stance, ask them. Then ask yourself, was I able to contact this person and get answers or were they evasive or non responsive ? Rather than filling in the little circle for the name you recognize, ask yourself first how long that person has been in office, and what if anything they have accomplished ? Do they deserve another shot or is it time for someone else to try ? 
Are you better off now than you were the last time you voted in a local race, and if not, what are you going to do about it ?
And if you do nothing about it, who do you have to blame ?
Take the initiative. Take the time. Remember you’re the boss. 
And then make an educated vote.

"Welcome To Elmira"

Ever since the incident at NBC News where Nightly News anchor Brian Williams was found to have embellished some of his stories, there's been some grumbling in Elmira and around the area about removing his image from the sign on Church St. welcoming people to the city. The actual number of people petitioning the city to remove him is said to only be a dozen or so, but the noise those few people are making is reverberating loudly even as recently as this past weekend when the NY Daily News did another report on the issue. 

It looks as though those people calling for Williams' removal from the sign may get more than they bargained for, as Elmira Mayor Sue Skidmore has said recently that the sign may need to be replaced due to wear and age. “After examining our sign in its entirety, I find that it is showing its age,” Elmira Mayor Sue Skidmore told NY Daily News. “So it is possible that the whole sign may come down for that reason only.”

Personally, I think that could be the best thing for several reasons. First and foremost, the sign features a few people who, while they have done well for themselves or others, aren't entirely recognizable to many people. There's people who live here in the area who may not know who Hal Roach was so it's plausible to say that the sign, while nice looking, doesn't really say anything about Elmira, or why a family from Vermont stopping for gas should want to drive any further into the city than The Dandy. In other words, it doesn't really "sell" the city. It doesn't really pique anyone's interest, and they get back on I-86, taking their money with them. 

To illustrate my next point, I'm going to delve into a cliche of sorts by comparing downtown Elmira to the City of Corning. If ever there was a reversal of fortunes it would be these two neighboring cities post-Agnes. Corning took the opportunity to rebuild and re-brand itself and thus has flourished despite being an almost equal distance to the Mall and Consumer Square. 

So what does Corning have that Elmira doesn't ? ( Besides Corning Inc. I mean. )

Corning knows how to sell itself to tourists. When you think of the words, "The Gaffer District", you may not be sure what a gaffer is, but you know whats there: lot's of open businesses. The logo is simple, neat, and tells you what you're going to find when you turn on to Market St. 


Meanwhile the current Elmira sign, yeah it's nice, but it doesn't really tell you much other than that guy on the news and some other people lived here:


Downtown Elmira is quite beautiful and there's lots of open real estate for small businesses. It's time to support the few remaining small businesses that are left and attract more by actually attracting people to come a little further into the city than the gas station just off the highway. Revamp the cities image by featuring not only those businesses but also the natural resource that runs right through the heart of the city. 

I propose "The Riverfront Shopping District". ( Or something like that * )

I could go into great detail my ideas for how it would look if I were to build it, but that's not the point of this column. My point is, to borrow from a movie, "If you build it, they will come.", both the shoppers and those looking to start up their own business. Allow the merchants to increase and encourage foot traffic as much as possible with their wares, but also by any means necessary including staging their own events. The city's job should simply be to get the people off the four lane and into the city past the first block. The merchants are the ones who will live and die by their own actions, they know best how to make it work once people get out of their cars. Let them do it, not another level of bureaucracy.

But it all has to start with an appeal to people to stop by and stay a while. A simple, neat sign that speaks volumes. "Welcome To Elmira" has to be more than a sign to look at while topping off one's gas tank. 

So I suggest as the City leaders look for the next step to take, they consider making a new sign which not only reflects who Elmira is, but what it can be for those passing through taking some time to explore. 


*But if by chance someone decides to run with that name and idea, just remember where you heard it first. ;)




Judging by the amount of views attached to the video showing the most recent act of violence in our schools, it's safe to assume you've seen it by now. And if not, you will soon. I won't be posting it here though. Not out of concern for squeamish viewers or being accused of "glorifying" said violence, but simply because I haven't found a way to post video that can't be taken down because someone doesn't like it being shown and complains.

Suffice it to say, a short video of a young man being picked up and slammed to the concrete at one of the local schools is disturbing. Certainly because 20+ years in the medical profession makes me aware of the injuries he may have sustained ( broken ribs ) but also the potential for worse ( punctured lung, broken neck, etc.). But also because tomorrow it could be my son.

Tomorrow it could be yours.

The community will be told it was an "isolated incident" if it even makes the news. However if you ask me a series of "isolated incidents" becomes a "trend", and judging by what we have seen the last couple weeks combined with what I am told by parents and yes, even teachers in the schools, there is a definite trend of violence and lack of control in some of our schools.

It's getting a little hard to differentiate between the school yards and prison yards in Elmira it seems.

Much like the riot at Elmira High School a couple weeks ago, the outrage on social media is building but I'm afraid that, much like that incident, the outrage will die out after a day or two and everyone forgets and moves on to the next thing.

Until a kid is permanently injured or worse, killed.

It's high time the people of Elmira pull their heads out of the sand and face the reality of what is going on their kids' schools. It's time they channel their outrage and disgust into something more than clicking "like" or "share" on Facebook followed by some trite comment. It's time to get involved and demand true change in the education system, a system that currently allows kids who want to learn and better themselves be preyed upon or distracted by those who are bound for a future involving steel bars and orange jumpsuits. It's time that those entrusted with our childrens' education are allowed to teach in a safe environment. It is time to demand that those in charge of the schools from the superintendent to the individual administrators are held responsible for the lack of control in the hallways and classrooms.

Talking, meetings and anti-bullying campaigns don't seem to be cutting it. Swift and serious punishment, including expulsion and criminal charges are needed. If the superintendent or administrators can't get things under control, they should be terminated and replaced with someone who can.

It's up to you, Elmira. What are you going to do about it ?


Tonight I saw a screen shot of something said on Facebook by the Mayor of Elmira, Sue Skidmore about a local citizen who was recently on the 6 o'clock news. When I first read it I was pretty dumbfounded, as it's inappropriate behavior for an elected official and well, downright mean.


Then I thought about it more, and you know, it really got under my skin. Because while I don't know Mayor Skidmore at all, more than once I've stood up for her when others would make fun of her appearance, something she has no control over any more than the lady on the 6 o'clock news. Because as much as politicians can be pretty slimy, even local ones, I believe in criticizing their performance in an official capacity instead of something they can't help such as their appearance, especially when due to a medical condition they can't help.

Ok, I got a chuckle out of the lady's hat, as did others I'm sure. But it's pretty bad that an official would openly mock someone who is part of the public they were elected to serve. But more than that, it's disappointing that someone like Mayor Skidmore, someone who has been the target of mean spirited comments regarding her appearance, would lower herself to this kind of behavior.

You owe this woman an apology Mayor Skidmore, and you owe it to her publicly.

3/21/15- I want to clarify that the source of the above photo was not taken from WETM News's Facebook page, and wish to dispel any rumors they have scrubbed the mayor's comments to protect her.


It's as predictable as the fact that January and February's weather is going to be the coldest and most miserable: The complaints about school being opened when the weather is bad.

Just check any local news comments sections on social media, and people are outraged, outraged that their children have to go to school when the weather is too cold, the roads a little too snowy, etc. Interestingly, you'll also see people complain about snow days and two hour delays ( which admittedly are inconvenient ) when the school district does enact them.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

I understand that some kids have to walk to school. I understand that their tender, young earns, noses and skin is susceptible to frostbite.

But let's take a big step back and examine this a little. First off, the temps this morning weren't -20 as some have said. Those were either "real feel" temperatures made up by news teams to tell you what -10 degrees will feel like. ( Seriously, can anyone truly tell me the difference between 0 and -10 ? Either way it's frickin' cold ! ) Or, instead of the actual temps people were discussing the "wind chill', affected by the driving wind, making low temps potentially more dangerous.

Except this morning it wasn't -10. It was -2 here in a historically colder part of the county.

And it was sunny.

No wind.

There was no need to close school, as with the sun shining the temperature warmed up pretty quickly and by 10 am it was above zero. So in that case, I'll give it to the school district, a two hour delay was appropriate without going overboard.

Still people complained it wasn't safe. So here's my response to that: Be a parent.

I don't need some school district superintendent or local bureaucrat to tell me how to properly raise our children. We don't rely on the advice or judgment of strangers when it comes to our kids' safety. We think something isn't safe, we don't let them do it, and that includes going to school. Maybe some people need to rely more on their own judgment and less on what they are told they should do and all will be fine.

And let's face it, the kids have been missing quite a bit of school lately because of the weather, much of it warranted, other times more based on a hunch that the weather may be lousy in the morning. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. Add to that the multiple weeks of vacation they have this school year, and it seems like they're out of school more than they're in. Perhaps if the school districts started cutting into long weekend like Memorial Day and Summer vacation to make up for missed days people wouldn't be so eager to have more snow days.

I won't even go into the fact we didn't have as many snow days as kids, and we certainly never had two hour delays. When there was a storm on the way we went to school, and I can remember our bus driver coaxing that big yellow bus up Jerusalem Hill ( pre I-86 construction ). Tires spinning, her eyes focused on the road, we knew she would get us up that hill and to home safely, and instinctively quiet down so she wasn't distracted. We didn't go to school unless the roads were really bad, bad enough that we were stuck home, not able to hop in the car and go to the Mall by lunchtime as seems to be the case now.

I'm amazed at how many kids can't make it to school but can make it to go shopping or a movie.

I can't help but wonder what kind of generation is going to be coming up in the work force. I can see it now, the weatherman says we have Winter Storm Bob may hit us with 1-3 or 6-8 depending on which model the Weather Service is using. Somewhere an employer is getting up to head into work and his or her cell phone ringing off the hook with messages of:

"Do we have to come to work today ?"

Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0