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February 2, 2012 - 9:54pm

One local official's perspective on recent community issues

It is clear to me that there is a lot of pain in our community and that people are looking to the leadership to better understand what is going on and what to do. Here’s my perspective.

I would like to start by saying that my heart truly goes out to the children and families directly affected by the Tourette's-like symptoms. I cannot even imagine how hard and possibly devastating this is for you! As a parent I do know what it is like to have your dreams for your child shattered (even if only temporarily) by forces with more power than you.

What I understand is that everyone would like answers. I am with you on this. We have some answers, but many of our questions are currently unanswered. It is very clear that there are a few students in our district of high-school age that are experiencing very real symptoms that resemble Tourette's. They and their parents are looking for answers as to why this is happening to them. I am not a doctor, neither is the school district. I do assume, though, that the reasons may not be the same for everyone and that everyone directly affected is desirous of a clear conclusion. While we search for answers we should keep in mind that the human brain is an extremely complex organ that we still do not fully understand.

Initially it seemed like this was an issue strictly affecting the school district and the high school specifically. My reaction as a community leader was that everything was being taken care of and under control, no need to worry. As the numbers of students affected began to increase it started to look like maybe there was a need for concern, but the school district was on top of it, so no need to panic. In the last few days, though, the situation seems to have escalated and spiraled rapidly out of control causing many rumors that have resulted in panic.

I am here to say that I do not have the answers. I know only what you already know. I've read Superintendent Cox's publications, read The Batavian and the Daily online, watched some of the Today Show and Dr. Drew, and listened to the opinions of others. What is clear to me is that there is more than one issue going on here and that the first brought the others to light. Thanks to the unrelenting efforts of some very strong parents who desperately want answers, we now know that the site of the train derailment 40-plus years ago was not properly cleaned up. It seems this is now being addressed. We also learned that there is another Superfund cleanup site in the area. The experts believe that these sites do not have anything to do with the Tourette's-like symptoms that are being exhibited by some of our youth. It is a good thing, though, that this was questioned otherwise we might not be seeing action at the derailment site. Clearly the contamination is not even near the school. I was speaking with someone today who served on the conservation committee at the time that the school was built, it seems very unlikely that any contaminated soil from the derailment site was used at the school site. I say it seems very unlikely because the site was already known to be contaminated before the school was built, but I take nothing for granted and support testing to put that question to bed for everyone.

Howard Owens, owner of The Batavian, did some research on some of the rumors that have been floating around. You can read what he found here: http://thebatavian.com/howard-owens/le-roy-high-school-property-rumors-a.... I also recommend looking at: http://thebatavian.com/howard-owens/follow-information-epa-and-dec-situa.... Finally, this statement was released yesterday in regard to water tests: http://thebatavian.com/howard-owens/nih-offers-no-cost-consultations-bet.... It also includes an offer from NIH and NIHM, that was reiterated on Dr. Drew last night, for free consultation through these agencies. I hope that the families will take this offer as it seems that with these two agencies working together on their behalf answers will be found. Also I would like to call your attention to the Le Roy Pennysaver this weekend as I happen to know that there will be a well researched piece in regards to the derailment in there. To satisfy my own curiosity I have also asked my own DEC contact if the school is built on a swamp or just swampy and will let you know when I have an answer.

I am not an expert on the environment. Those of you who know me know I am a relentless recycler that even throws toilet paper and paper towel cores in the recycle bin with used tissues rather than into the landfill; I try to guilt people into saving Terra Cycle items for the school because it earns PTSO money, when truly I just am grateful to keep it out of the landfill; that I carry paper coffee cups around with me for hours and hours until I find a recycle bin; I freak out a little on my family if they buy water in plastic bottles (ok, a lot); and I also know a great deal about VOCs in regards to paint and stain and would like to see more no-VOC products used in our public facilities. Even so, the Superfund sites and the environmental questions at the school are beyond my area of expertise.

What I can say for certain is that I do not believe in any way that there is a conspiracy to cover something up. You know that if I am proven to be wrong about this I will be the first to step up and admit it. I understand why people might believe there is a cover up, though. I support productive questioning of everything. Does the (swimming) pool ring a bell? All of us live here together in the same small community, shop at the same stores, go to the same gyms and restaurants, and most of us even drink the same water, including Mrs. Cox. I do not believe that anyone is trying to maliciously cover up. I do believe, though, that none of us are experts on how to deal with the situation, particularly the resultant media spotlight.

Above all else, I believe that together as a community we can find answers, overcome this, and heal. We are strong as a team. Perhaps one of the most important ways we can do this is to try to stop the rumors. Rumors tend to be inflammatory and divisive. They can be productive if we look at them as being a tool to finding answers, but if we look at them as truth then we stall our own efforts to move forward and find real answers. Please let us not point the finger of blame, but instead unite around the truth we have and the questions we want answered and around the families who have brought all of this to our attention. Human beings are incredibly strong and resilient in the face of adversity. Let’s show our strength to each other and the rest of the country and heal as a community. United we stand, divided we fall, has been proven true after all.

Below I will paste several links to recent Batavian coverage of this issue so that you have quick references to look at. Earlier today I posted on my FB page that I was considering blogging about this and asked for my friends’ input on what I should include. I believe I have covered much of it; more of it will be covered in the Pennysaver this weekend. I would like to know from the rest of you what you would like to see from your community leaders, particularly those of us who are elected. I want to know your ideas. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing them here please feel free to confidentially contact me via email me at [email protected].

As always, I appreciate your reading this and your input. Thank you, Howard, for providing us with this forum to update people and to discuss issues on.

Today: http://thebatavian.com/howard-owens/hawley-issues-statement-le-roy-illne... Yesterday: http://thebatavian.com/howard-owens/le-roy-illnesses-todays-efforts-gath... http://thebatavian.com/howard-owens/le-roy-superintendent-releases-lette... Monday: http://thebatavian.com/howard-owens/photos-drive-down-gulf-road-le-roy/3... http://thebatavian.com/howard-owens/hochul-responds-question-about-situa... http://thebatavian.com/howard-owens/statement-released-le-roy-central-sc... Over the weekend: http://thebatavian.com/howard-owens/statement-released-le-roy-central-sc... http://thebatavian.com/howard-owens/specialist-questions-scientific-vali... (This is not an exhaustive list.)

Lorie Longhany
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Thank you Jennifer for speaking as a local official. We're grateful for your leadership.

LeRoy is a uniquely beautiful community and this too shall pass.

Howard B. Owens
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Thanks for the post, Jennifer.

Bea McManis
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Well written, my friend. Thanks for the post.

Judith Kinsley ...
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Beautifully put Jennifer. Thank you.

Jackie Kelly
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Thank you Jennifer as it does ease some of the questions surrounding the silence by officials, although where is the Mayor's posting?? I am saddened that it took this long for an official response, Ms. Cox should not have been left holding the attacks for this long. Is there any future plans for the officials to speak to the media?

Mark Potwora
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Jackie my thoughts exactly.............Thanks Jennifer for standing up and voicing support for what is going on...Ms.Cox should not be made to stand alone on this.....

Bill Elsasser
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The marshy end of Bunnell Park, just west of the fence line, near where the pond is located, seems like an area of interest. Who was the excavating contractor? Wasn't an excavator "buried" in the muck somewhere around here and then retrieved? Must have made the newspaper at the time. Where was the fill for that retrieval pit sourced? Is the playground and sports area of the Park a potential "common denominator"? The "natural" area, just northwest of the playground and east of Summit Street, draws the runoff from the sports fields, any need to sample soil or water here? If nothing else, this challenge forces us to re-evaluate our safe environment.

Jamie Lindsley
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We could all stand to maintain composure under stress. However, I am unfamiliar with LeRoy officials: What is Jennifer Keys's title / role?

Jennifer Keys
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Great question, JL. I am a Village Trustee, elected member of the Village Board.

Ted Wenzka
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Bill - You are the perfect example of what is wrong with many people in LeRoy and surrounding area. Here is a village official attempting to make sense of out of the mayhem and turn around and add fuel to the fire. It is people like you who scream fire just to see people run.

lucie griffis
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Thanks for the awesome blog as an elected official. I think we, the community, really needed to hear from one of you. You are always so full of information.

Jennifer Keys
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Thank you for your support, Ted, but I don't think Bill is trying to fan the flames, I think he has asked legitimate questions that he would like answers to.

Bill, I logged on to thank you for your questions and to let you know that I've added them to the running long I started of citizen questions. I'll see what I can find out and I appreciate your patience.

Jennifer Keys
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Thanks, Jackie. If we were to speak to the media what are you looking for?

Judith Kinsley ...
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I think Bill has every right to ask questions of an elected official. At what point did LeRoyans lose that right? Who would you suggest he ask? The school has been less than forthcoming with their answers so that's not an option. Whether Jennifer has knowledge of the particulars, she is one willing to be up front about it.

Ted Wenzka
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JKB - "The school has been less forthcoming ..." In my view, they have done everything possible. What do want them to do - stand on their heads, jump when you say jump. It is time to stop bashing people and generate some constructive criticism.

Ted Wenzka
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Jennifer - I beg to differ with you. I may be reading too much into Bill's comment but in rereading his comment it seems he does not believe any of the doctor's reports and the problem is an environmental issue. The grounds near the school have been tested with no environmental problems.

Judith Kinsley ...
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Gee Ted, it appears that you are the basher. First of Bill for asking questions and then me for defending his right to ask. Is this your contribution to "constructive criticism?"

And please show me a single report where the ground has been tested. I'd love to see it and it would be one less question I will feel the need to ask and one less thing that will bother you when I do ask.

Gerald Robinson
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JKB. Look back at one of the other posts. I provided a link that Bocock said on Dr. Drew that they wouldn't be able to do any ground testing until spring because the ground is frozen. Maybe he's lying about that he might even "miss remember" if you ask him, i don't know but, if he can't test it because the ground is frozen then how would the school be able to test it. I find it hard to believe that they can't get ground samples now but, i'm not the expert with twenty plus years of experience, that showed up with a six inch shovel to dig into the ground on a Saturday.

Judith Kinsley ...
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Ted said they already did test it. I could care less who does it, so long as it's done. Either it was done or not and if it was, I want to see the results if it was. Simple question.

Gerald Robinson
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Just got a voice message from the school saying they had some environmental company come in and do testing and will give their results tomorrow from 9-10 and if unable to attend will post the results on the School website.

Judith Kinsley ...
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Just in! Tomorrow a meeting will be held between 9 and 10 a.m. at the LeRoy High School Auditorium with regard to the testing that has been done by Leader Professional Services on behalf of the District. It's not on the website yet but they are sending out messages via their emergency phone network.

Mark Potwora
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Just saw this link on the Drudge web site........

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2095728/Could-infection-mysterio...

Jennifer Keys
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Yes, I received the call too. See you at 9:00 a.m. I might be a little gross from my morning work out. ;)

Regardless, I do agree that people have a right to ask questions of their elected officials. It is better to ask the questions and try to get answers than to spread the rumors. Transparency is what people want and deserve. Thanks for the questions, Bill. I will do my best to get them answered, as I said above. I have to do some digging as I wasn't here at the time. Hey, maybe some of them will be answered tomorrow at the school.

Howard B. Owens
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I'm happy to see the release of water testing yesterday, and this new development.

John Woodworth JR
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Thank you Jennifer. I will be unable to attend due to work. Will be anxious to see the final report. Good luck tomorrow.

Andrew Lathan
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I must have gotten a different call. The meeting is to discuss Leader's review of the existing study that was done by BOCES and to discuss the planning of any future rounds of testing.

From the district website: The Le Roy Central School District has hired Leader Professional Services, a highly regarded environmental, industrial hygiene, and safety consulting firm. Leader was hired to assess and has been assessing, the testing already performed at the high school and is ready to make recommendations for further air and soil testing at the
school. Leader has completed its review and will present its recommendations for a work plan for additional testing to the parents of students in our District on Saturday,
February 4 from 9:00-10:00 at the high school auditorium.

Jennifer Keys
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I just listened to the vcml again. Leader has assessed the current testing & will be presenting their report & recommendations for further air & soil testing at the meeting tomorrow & the information will be on the school's website after the meeting.

Judith Kinsley ...
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Must have been wishful thinking on my part that tests had already been done. That and the fact I received it second-hand from my husband who would also like to see some testing. Here's to progress though!

Shannon Koch
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"Please let us not point the finger of blame, but instead unite around the truth we have and the questions we want answered and around the families who have brought all of this to our attention. Human beings are incredibly strong and resilient in the face of adversity. Let’s show our strength to each other and the rest of the country and heal as a community. United we stand, divided we fall, has been proven true after all."

Well said Jennifer!!! I believe that we need to remain mindful of the fact that the teens that are suffering from the symptoms need community support to push for an answer as to "why", rather than "finger-pointing" and the "blame game" that tend to divide. Thanks, Jennifer, for the willingness to speak out as a public figure.

Jackie Kelly
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I think it would be a nice gesture to know the mayor and elected officials supports this community, school, parents, students, and businesses affected. A blanket statement to the media, which would show support and concern. My sister lives in PA and wondered do we even have a mayor? The feud with the school and the Brockovich team needs a mediator. If Brockovich's team is willing to do testing for free, why not share the testing. What will the cost to tax payers for these tests going to be?
I did see your media interview from Saturday to YNN, which was an important message that at least someone in office is concerned and hopeful of a quick turnaround. As a parent with 2 children in the HS, a tax payer and homeowner I do not think this is an unreasonable thing is ask for.

Jennifer Keys
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Thank you, Jackie Kelly. Did you see the Mayor's notes in this weekend's Pennysaver or The Town Supervisor's research on the derailment?

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