CUNNINGHAM’S CORNER: ‘Ford to City — Drop Dead’Free Access

‘Ford to City: Drop Dead’



I am, I confess, something of a sucker for a good tabloid headline. Who doesn’t like a headline along the lines of ‘Headless Body Found in Topless Bar’? I know, I know, this fascination with newspaper headlines might be a dying art, with so many people entertaining themselves with the latest falsehood on Facebook, shared by their dear friend whose best ripostes on Facebook come when it’s wine-o-clock.

But the Ford to City headline, that was a classic, from the Daily News on Oct. 30, 1975. Ford, in a speech, announced he would deny the nearly bankrupt New York City a federal bailout.

I thought of that headline on learning of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s veto of a bill to shelter the Mahopac school district — and its taxpayers — from an inadvertent administrative error some years ago when seeking building aid. Both houses of the state Legislature had approved a fix. Cuomo has just vetoed it.

As a consequence, the Mahopac district could lose $393.775 in state aid each year for the next seven years. AND, it would be forced to pay back to the state $315,593 each year for the next 10 years.

Cuomo wants to decriminalize all kinds of things. But, alas, the list does not include innocent or inadvertent mistakes by school districts. Make no mistake, this is not good news for Mahopac and the “leaders of tomorrow” its staff seeks to guide. Not a good omen for the Mahopac Way.

So, in November 2019, the updated version of the headline is surely this:

Cuomo to Mahopac: Drop Dead.

One of the quintessential New York experiences of our early ownership of the Courier and the PCNR was being fined well over $10,000 by the state Workers Compensation authorities for, supposedly, not having workers comp insurance. I was all alarmed. We’ve got to tell them. We have the insurance!

To my insurance agent, it was just another day in business in New York. Happens all the time, he said cheerfully, saying he would sort it out.

It seems that New York is good at tracking all cancellations of workers comp insurance. But it doesn’t, apparently, track new starts or enrollments.

I tell you this because it’s given me a heightened awareness of workers comprelated issues. In the western part of the county, the Haldane School District is deciding what to do about its girls’ basketball coach, Tyrone Searight, who is currently suspended from coaching while the school reviews allegations he defrauded the Workers Compensation system. He was a bus driver for the MTA, and said he couldn’t work due to an injury to his left knee. New York State Inspector General Letizia Tagliafierro reported two weeks ago that “while Searight was claiming he was not working and unable to work, he was actually working as the girls’ varsity basketball coach for the Haldane Central School District in Cold Spring. Between November 2016 and March 2017, Searight was observed coaching the team at games and running practices. Video surveillance showed Searight bending, squatting, pacing, waving his arms and abruptly standing up from the sidelines at several games.”

That bending, squatting, pacing and leaping will get you every time. Realizing that New York’s workers comp system is frequently subject to fraud, and realizing that businesses bear substantial costs as a result of this system, this isn’t a small item. Workers comp is a big cost for small businesses, like all the small businesses in Putnam, even if no claims have been made. The MTA has already fired Searight.

So the issue isn’t, shall we say, academic. Here’s the thing. The coach, Searight, is highly popular. He’s also pretty successful.

What to do? Absent some big sign of contrition and regret, I don’t see how Haldane administrators can square the circle and keep him in the post, if these allegations are true. We need only look at the Haldane Athletic and Extracurricular Code of Conduct, which says, in part, that students will “Act with honesty, integrity, reliability and good sportsmanship,” and “Show respect for authority.” And, broadly, it notes that participants “have chosen to be ambassadors of Haldane and are expected to live up to a high level of accountability.”

Surely we expect that coaches will act with honesty and integrity, right, in their critical posts? And surely coaches should model the highest level of behavior for students, yes, not the lowest?

We shall see. I’ll let you know.

Until next week.

Douglas Cunningham is editor of the Courier and the Putnam County News and Recorder. Reach by email at, or at 845-265-2468.

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