PLATTSBURGH — Clinton County Legislator Chris Rosenquest wants to take the talking offline.
It was a few weeks ago that Rosenquest (D-Area 9, City of Plattsburgh) saw his name appear in the private Save Durkee Street Parking Lot Facebook page.
It was, he said, surrounded by falsehoods.
That's when the legislator decided to schedule an open discussion at the Koffee Kat in downtown Plattsburgh last Wednesday.
"It's so hard to just interact with somebody online without being called a name or having somebody say something about you that's not true," he said during the discussion.
"I'd rather engage one-on-one, or with groups of people, rather than have somebody just bash me or my wife on the internet or Facebook."
And so, he decided, "I'm not going to do this online. I'm going to do this in person."
The Save Durkee group, created by SUNY Plattsburgh Associate Professor of History Sylvie Beaudreau, has more than 700 members.
The page operates as a virtual forum for City of Plattsburgh constituents to discuss the Downtown Revitalization Initiative's development of the Durkee Street parking lot.
By way of a FOIL request, a member of the page revealed three members of an early Plattsburgh Advisory Committee.
Those members were Community Development Director Matthew Miller, Downtown Revitalization Coordinator Ethan Vinson and Rosenquest.
In the post's comments, some discussed the PAC's lack of public involvement, but Rosenquest was also referred to as an "unsuccessful businessman" who had ran a "failed campaign for mayor of Plattsburgh."
It was added that his wife Tracy Vicory-Rosenquest, owner and operator of Chapter One Coffee and Tea in the Plattsburgh Public Library, got that cafe contract via Clinton County; the Facebook comment was later corrected to say via the City Common Council.
But the comment also said, "I should maybe specify that the (Clinton-Essex-Franklin) library Board of Trustees — one-third of which are appointed by Clinton County legislators — selected (Vicory-Rosenquest) for the contract, which was then approved by the Common Council."
On July 5, Rosenquest responded to those online comments in an open letter to the Save Durkee group.
"Your suggestions and assumptions are far from the truth," the letter posted on his public Facebook page says.
"Even if (the library) were a (Clinton County) entity, there are a significant number of checks and balances in place that would make doing business with the county extremely prohibitive — although not impossible."
He added that, as a member of public office, he has both grown accustomed to and has become open to criticism.
"What I do take issue with is unwarranted criticism based on gossip, innuendo and personal assumptions," the letter says.
"Regardless of your reasons or motivations for criticizing me, I believe your approach is misguided and your 'facts' inaccurate."
NO COMMUNITY STAKEHOLDERS
Beaudreau defended her group, saying it's not inaccurate to dub Rosenquest an unsuccessful businessman.
The SUNY professor pointed to a North Country Public Radio article where Vicory-Rosenquest mentions the pair's failed business venture: a farm store.
"Lots of businesses fail," Beaudreau said. "I have no problem with that."
The issue was with Rosenquest's seat on the PAC, she said.
"If Chris and his wife got a contract for their coffee shop — livelihood — from the city in 2017. . . he was unlikely to go against the views of his fellow committee members, who were employees of the city.
"We feel that the FOIL revealed that the interests of the city were represented on this committee, not any so-called community stakeholders."
At his Wednesday discussion, Rosenquest addressed his spot on that committee.
He said he was asked to join by Director Miller and was given some prospective economic development plans for the Durkee site.
Then, Rosenquest said, he submitted what he felt would be the best fit for that location.
"In the end, they went with something other than my suggestion," he said. "But I just thought, 'That's OK. That's how these things work.'"
'BUILD UP COMMUNITY'
The Koffee Kat discussion only attracted a handful of constituents.
"Of course I would like more people to come out," Rosenquest said. "I think the biggest disconnect with social (media) is that arm's length transaction between me and you.
"Where 'you' are actually a human being on the other end of the computer."
Still, his open letter acknowledged the work of citizen groups, like the Save Durkee page.
"I appreciate your fight and resolve to stand up for what you believe in," it says. "I also respectfully ask that you fight in a way that builds up our community.
"I don’t see how you bashing me or others in the community based on opinions, gossip or half-truths will help gather and build the necessary support you want."
FEEL ENGAGED, FEEL HEARD
Beaudreau said the Save Durkee page doesn't deal in bashing, name calling or inappropriate behavior.
"Our group is monitored by several administrators who enforce our regulations," she said.
And, she added, the benefits of operating the page outweigh the risks.
It is a place to share information, thoughts and events related to the DRI project, she said.
"The upshot is that in the 21st century, politicians and public figures have to accept that they cannot govern in secrecy," she said.
"Everything they say and do is a matter of public record and the Freedom of Information Laws allow citizens access to the facts."
SECOND TALK PLANNED
Rosenquest scheduled another discussion for Saturday, July 27 at the Koffee Kat from noon to 2 p.m.
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