Suspending Stone allows WAMC to more credibly follow the story, and Dave Lucas has indeed now filed a report on the investigation. Joe Donahue and Alan Chartock likewise had a frank discussion of the Times Union’s article on air this morning, a recording of which can be heard here.
« ORIGINAL POST » The Albany Times-Union has published a lengthy article by Capitol correspondent James Odato about alleged personnel issues with State wildlife pathologist Ward Stone, including stark allegations of personal use of State resources, financial woes, abusive behavior to co-workers, and even cruelty to deer.
Naturally, the piece is generating a lot of heat from both longtime supporters and detractors, and Stone—a Hudson native, now 71, and no stranger to controversy—has begun to respond in the broadcast media here and here.
Somewhat defensively, the T-U has also now posted PDF files of various internal personnel documents from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), along with information about Stone’s academic credentials.
Below are two perceptive and balanced reactions to the story from solid sources who have worked and interacted with Stone, but have no direct allegiance to (or stake in the outcome of the complaints against) him. These are shared below without attribution, at the authors’ requests:
An Albany insider writes...
WAMC was airing this issue for callers on The Roundtable this morning (a good pre-emptive move on their part, given their recent close association with Stone via the radio show). A lot of support for him was being expressed–matching some of the Republican rhetoric on the Bruno sentencing, to a degree.
Ward is an environmental hero and catalyst, and notably, the article does not attack his accomplishments in that context, or his pathology work.
However, he is one self-centered son of a gun, and I’ve never been too impressed during my direct interactions with or around him. Little of the criticism directed at him in the article is surprising–these issues have been swirling around the Albany environmental community for many years.
I think the article ultimately reveals that he is someone with a very strong sense of himself, someone who likely sees himself as essential to “real” environmental work in New York State, and therefore someone who feels they can bend the rules, or is entitled to something more as a result. My read has long been that Stone acts too important for himself and has perhaps become too institutionalized as the renegade, if that is possible. Factor in his age and some tough personal issues, and you’ve got the makings of a difficult character.
I don’t see the T-U at fault in this–they had real issues to work with, and someone like Ward, given his controversial roles in addition to/because of his state employment, should have left far less ammunition around for someone to use against him.
Given that few of the allegations in the article surprised me, the more interesting question is: Why make the move on him now? Who felt this was the time to force him out? I suspect a distinct lack of support from the departing Second Floor may be a key factor in that.
A media expert writes...
It smacks of a hit to me.
This is a man on a mission, and if he’s taken up residence in his office, that’s why. I don't believe for a second that he’s not working hard. If he’s working on “outside” projects, I’ll bet that it’s stuff he considers important that DEC won’t fund. They’ve tried to push him out for decades, and this is just the latest push.
Far from being “protected from on high,” Ward’s had his staff limited by design, had resources siphoned from his department, and, according to him, has been stuck in the same pay grade since the 1970s. To say his personal finances are in a shambles, then cite income well in excess of his debts, is really cheap, and shows that they’re desperate to discredit him in any way they can, even though they don’t have much—which casts everything they say into suspicion.
Ward has often expressed disgust with the clock punchers in the DEC, and that they lacked real commitment. Maybe his kind of passion offends other state employees. If this stuff were true, and he was just living there, freeloading, it would be contrary to every impression I’ve had of him.
That being said, he does strike me as a Norman Mailer type, so any sort of chauvinism/out of control ego issue would be par for the course.
The key question both commenters ask above—Why now?—is particularly intriguing.
It may simply be that the internal complaints at DEC had reached a point in the bureaucratic food chain where failing to let the news out would play into allegations from Stone’s more conservative critics; so maybe the State decided to leak this info to the press to cover their rumps. But given that most of the complaints are strung out over a period of many years, there doesn't seem to be an obvious catalyst for the story.
The only public controversy of any note over Stone’s recent work was DEC’s refusal to fund his proposed study of downwind mercury impacts from the Lafarge cement plant along the Hudson River—which has an air permit and planned expansion currently under review.
As the comments on the T-U’s articles indicate, the plant’s Ravena neighbors believe that this story was timed to help Lafarge. Barring any hard evidence, that seems something of a stretch, though not out of the realm of possibility. Not every situation like this is a case of follow-the-money or an Insideresque takedown. The paper’s reporters strenuously reject the insinuation that they are being used, but crazier things have been said to happen before, including some involving Odato.