Fired Reimagining-critical reporter takes her complaint to the Legislature
by Robert Lynch, October 6, 2022
Former Tompkins Weekly reporter Deidra Cross, out of work and angry, took her grievance against one County official’s alleged First Amendment meddling to the floor of the Tompkins County Legislature Thursday. Cross made it clear she blames County Communications Director Dominick Recckio for her firing, though she never mentioned Recckio by his full name during her time-limited Privilege-of-the-Floor comment.
Legislature Vice-Chair Deborah Dawson, presiding at Thursday’s meeting, tried to shut Cross down. Cross would have none of it. Dawson was not pleased. But neither was Cross. I wasn’t pretty.
Cross: “This is a government official (Recckio) that has impeded on my employment, my opinion, and now my termination.”
Dawson: “You know, Ms. Cross, you are skating dangerously close to violating the rules of your public forum here, so…”
Cross (interrupting): “Public statement from your own commission (sic)…”
Dawson: “But you are not allowed to use this forum to comment on the performance of a named employee. That’s clear in our rules, because that’s the condition of using public…”
Cross (again interrupting): “I didn’t name anyone. I followed your guidelines. I didn’t name anyone.”
Dawson: “Well, we can debate that. Your three minutes are up. Thank you very much.”
Cross: “It was not three minutes.” (Actually nearly four minutes’ time had elapsed.)
Dawson (after checking with the clerk): “Yes, it was.”
Cross (after a pause): “See you in court.”
Dawson: “I look forward to it.”
Cross, (exiting): “So do I, actually”
Dawson: “Good bye.”
Yes, for a brief view few moments Thursday, a spark of life and anger—mutual antipathy, to be blunt— illuminated an otherwise hum-drum County Legislature meeting, one of the briefest—and dullest—of its type in months, maybe years.
And when Deborah Dawson bid Deidra Cross her snarky farewell, Legislature Chair Shawna Black—zooming-in from home and nursing a case of COVID—was shown on the split screen briefly cracking a smile.
Quite obviously, Tompkins County lawmakers, at least the body’s liberal majority, are circling the wagons in support of their Communications Director and his intervention with a local publication in furtherance of his mission to defend Reimagining Public Safety and Tompkins County’s role in it.
Though the publication might dispute the causal connection, Deidra Cross maintains Tompkins Weekly fired her because of two articles she wrote, both of them profiles of local notables openly critical of the County/City of Ithaca collaborative to reform local policing. Most recently, Cross profiled Trumansburg Mayor Rordan Hart. Last April, she interviewed builder and conservative activist Rocco Lucente.
As she began her remarks, the fired journalist quoted Recckio’s previously-released criticism of Cross’ Lucente article. Cross read a reported email to Tompkins Weekly Editor Jessica Wickham, one that generated from the editor a transparently ingratiating—if not fawning—reply.
Recckio (as quoted by Cross to the Legislature): “Jessica, I’m sharing with you that I’m concerned about this week’s (Tompkins Weekly profile of Lucente.) This is peppered with lies, misleading statements and unfounded attacks on several topics under the guise of featuring a harmless activist and writer…. I expect there will be others upset by this piece. I just want to make you aware of these concerns.”
Wickham, in reply (again, as quoted in Cross’ comments): “Thank you for reaching out. I will say that I had similar concerns myself without going into it….”
Wickham, later in that quoted email: “My sincerest apologies if the article’s subject upsets you or anyone else. If you or anyone finds anything that is a statement of fact that is misleading or false in nature in the article, please don’t hesitate to let me know…. Also, feel free to refer anyone who is upset with the article to me. If there is considerable backlash, I will talk with my publisher about these opinions.”
“So,” Deidra Cross told the Legislature as she finished her quotes, “that is a government official weighing in on an article that was already vetted and published for the sixth time regarding RPS (the Reimagining effort) in the publication I’ve now been terminated from.”
Cross has threatened to sue over the County’s intervention, alleging it cost her job. Ithaca City Alderperson Jeffrey Barken, who first exposed Recckio’s efforts during his own floor comments to Ithaca’s Common Council September 7th meeting, has alleged the Communications Director infringed on Cross’ and the paper’s First Amendment freedoms.
Tompkins County Attorney William Troy, in a statement released the day following Barken’s disclosure, cleared Recckio of any impropriety. “At no time was any threat made directly or indirectly against anyone,” Troy wrote of Recckio’s actions.
Dominick Recckio, for his part, has declined public comment on the matter. And aside from the ex-reporter’s floor statement, Thursday’s County Legislature meeting dealt little with the lingering Reimagining controversy or Recckio’s involvement in it.
Shawna Black, who at the Legislature’s previous meeting had offered a full-throated defense of Recckio and of Reimagining, and who had then criticized Barken’s statements as “defamatory and uninformed accusations,” remained mum on the issue Thursday.
Reimagining’s defense, instead, came at Thursday’s meeting from one source; Ulysses-Enfield legislator Anne Koreman. Though she declined to wade directly into the Communications Director’s flap, Koreman defended police reform in concept. She also pushed back gently on Mayor Hart’s comments, those earlier quoted by Cross, that Reimagining’s alleged demoralization of Ithaca’s police has thinned IPD’s ranks and placed heavier burdens upon medical first responders, like Trumansburg’s.
“Might we not be doing everything right the first time?” Koreman asked rhetorically. “Yes, I do agree. We’re not going to do it perfect.” Koreman continued, “Might there be unintended consequences? Yes.”
Nonetheless, Koreman added, “I do believe that we are headed in the right direction. So I think it’s very important that we continue to do that (Reimagining) as best we can.”
By the time Koreman spoke, Deidra Cross had already left the room. Had she remained, she might have had something to say—providing, of course, that Deborah Dawson would have let her say it. No love lost.