All posts by ryanzunner

Nursing Home Controversy Draws Scrutiny

After a high ranking official in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration was caught on tape discussing the state’s Covid response in nursing homes politicians, Republicans and Democrats, are calling for further scrutiny and possibly even impeachment.

Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said that she wasn’t sure what to hand over in a Department of Justice inquiry about nursing homes, because she wasn’t sure what “was going to be used against us,” allegations detailed in news reports first appearing in the New York Post.

State GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy believes what Governor Cuomo and his administration did was obstruction of justice.

“They made it about politics,” Langworthy said during a news conference at Erie County Republican Headquarters in downtown Buffalo on Friday. “These are laughable excuses. And it’s an insult to the intelligence in the integrity of 19 million New York taxpayers. He has grossly abused his power and he has destroyed the credibility and the trust of the Office of the governor. Andrew Cuomo must be prosecuted, and Andrew Cuomo must be impeached if this evidence exists. The truth is that this entire ordeal starting with that fateful executive order on March 25, was corrupt from the outset.”

A January report from the New York Attorney General’s office found preliminary information that the Department of Health had been undercounting nursing home COVID deaths, and many homes were failing to follow infectious disease control policies. In a statement, DeRosa said her comments on the conference call were about having to shift focus away from a similar request made by the State Senate, to the one made by the DOJ.

“I was explaining that when we received the DOJ inquiry, we needed to temporarily set aside the Legislature’s request to deal with the federal request first. We informed the houses of this at the time,” DeRosa said in the written statement. “We were comprehensive and transparent in our responses to the DOJ, and then had to immediately focus our resources on the second wave and vaccine rollout. As I said on a call with legislators, we could not fulfill their request as quickly as anyone would have liked. But we are committed to being better partners going forward as we share the same goal of keeping New Yorkers as healthy as possible during the pandemic.”

Inquiries and calls for action are also being taken by members of the governor’s own party as well. Tish James, a Democrat, headed the prior nursing home report in her capacity as Attorney General. New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams tweeted that Cuomo’s actions are “Trump-like,” and said the governor only apologizes when he is caught. In what is the largest pushback from Democratic legislators against Cuomo, 14 Democratic State Senators, including Sen. James Skoufis, Chair of the Committee on Investigations and Government Operations, signed onto a statement calling for the rescinding of the governor’s emergency powers as they are “no longer appropriate.”

Senator Skoufis (D-39) was also on the conference call obtained by the New York Post, and DeRosa’s comments about the DOJ inquiry were in response to a question posed by Skoufis asking why it was taking so long for the Department of Health and the governor’s office to respond to a similar inquiry made by both the State Senate and Assembly.

The governor’s emergency powers are set to expire on April 30, but the coalition of Democratic senators are calling for that to happen sooner.

Hilbert Moves to Virtual Classes

Last week, Hilbert College announced it’s moving to online class instruction after Friday, November 13 due to increased COVID-19 cases across Erie County. The move comes just a week before the original target date of transitioning to virtual learning, which was just before Thanksgiving.

Dr. Michael Brophy, the college’s president, said the decision to move earlier was a proactive one.

“This previous Sunday when the governor made it clear that Western New York was moving into what they call the yellow zone,” Brophy told HAWK Radio News on Thursday. “We just had to think about all the different logistics that would kick into gear if God forbid, the virus started moving quickly. And because Western New York is struggling right now with the virus, we thought it best to be able to send everyone home on Friday.”

The state’s yellow zone area includes Hamburg and much of Erie County. With that designation comes many new restrictions including limited dine-in seating at restaurants, gatherings are limited to 25 people or less, and certain businesses must close by 10pm.

Also included was a testing requirement for schools, mandating that they test at least 20 percent of students, faculty, and staff per week. While the requirement did not include private colleges like Hilbert, Brophy said the difficulty to meet that should the state mandate institutions like Hilbert to do so was also a factor in the early online transition.

“We determined through the governor’s office that we weren’t required to do that [testing],” he said. “But the fact is that if we needed to do testing, for better or worse, the local and federal governments just haven’t provided this infrastructure for lots of rapid testing for lots of people. So we realized that if we needed to test everyone, we were in a tough place. It wasn’t just financial, it was really just logistical with the tests to be there.”

When the coronavirus pandemic first hit the United States in March, many professors were caught somewhat off guard after Hilbert moved to teaching online. Dr. Brophy said this time, they’re prepared.

“The faculty worked all summer long on having their courses prepared to be taught online,” Brophy said. “They prepared to be online at Thanksgiving, so it’s not going to be a great hardship on the faculty. But obviously, we’re really, really sad about our students, especially our freshmen who are in their first year of college and having to deal with this. But we do think, as a Franciscan college, we have to be thinking about people’s whole lives, and welfare.”

As of November 15, Hilbert has reported 12 COVID-19 cases to the state from the beginning of the semester, including both commuter and residential students. Looking ahead to a return to having students in the classroom, Dr. Brophy is confident in the January 25 return date for the spring semester.

“I think our students know that we did a really good job this summer, we queued everything up, people came back, we started the fall semester,” Brophy said. “But it came down to a lot of planning and sacrifices. We’re gonna do the same thing for the spring. What we’re hearing from the medical community, of course, is that the next month will be very difficult for most of the country, but in a new year, the vaccines will be available to folks. So we are preparing to come to be back on the 25th for sure.”

Classes for this fall semester will continue on virtually until December 18.

Hamburg Budget Holds the Line

The COVID-19 pandemic caused many governments to raise, or consider raising taxes to account for deficits. That includes places like Nashville, Chicago, and California, but not in Hamburg according to Town Supervisor Jim Shaw.

“0.0%, no tax increase, taxes stay constant to what they were in 2020,” said Shaw

Shaw said the town took a hard look at reducing unneeded spending, and capitalizing on low interest rates to even update some of its facilities and services.

“We cut back on overtime, we cut back on out of town travel for seminars, we put a cap on new equipment or vehicle purchases,” Shaw said. “We also established a hiring freeze for part-time summer employees and full time employees.”

There’s no layoffs planned, but one position would be eliminated in the police department.

“We anticipate four retirements in the first few months of 2021,” said Shaw “one of those positions will remain vacant, so we’re not laying anyone off, one will be vacant, it’s eliminated by attrition.”

One welcomed decision is the state’s reversal on not sharing revenue from the Hamburg Casino and racetrack with the town. Shaw said while it was reduced, the funds will be much needed help to Hamburg’s pocketbook.

“Given the state’s financial difficulties, which are profound, we are relived to get 80% of the funding.”

Shaw said local governments can’t operate like the federal government and run a deficit. It needs to work and take account for the needs of the community.

“The fact of the matter of it is there are a lot of people in our township, not to mention other areas throughout Erie County and Western New York, there are a lot of people who are really suffering. And what we can do in this time of suffering, is tighten our belts and hold the line. It’s what we owe people morally, we can’t be excessive spenders when everyone else is struggling.”

The $47.7 million dollar budget is a decrease from the previous year’s $48.7 million budget. It’ll go for a vote in front of the Town Board on November 16th for approval. 

Hilbert to Hold Day of Caring

The Hilbert College community will gather this week to pitch in on projects throughout Western new York.

The school will hold its annual Franciscan Day of Caring Wednesday, September 30, with students, staff and faculty learning about Franciscan teachings in the morning and participating in service projects during the afternoon.

Vice President for Mission Integration and Campus Ministry Jeffrey Papia said the event is a great example of Hilbert’s commitment to the Franciscan tradition.

“We do this because we have to, we do this because we must. We, as a Catholic and Franciscan school, are not simply here for education’s sake,” said Papia. “The degrees we give out, the students that we educate, the things we do are all meant to support the world around us and make the lives of those around us better and more fulfilling.”

In past years, Hilbert students, faculty, and alumni would participate in large scale community projects for a day of service. With the COVID-19 pandemic, that’s not practical this year, but Papia said the day of caring work will be just as impactful.

“A lot of what we’ll be doing is inside the classroom. Smaller projects that are manageable within the space. Things that we’ve organized in working with our community partners,” Papia said. “Little tasks and work that might not be as large as organizing a big food pantry, or doing inventory at the Teacher’s Desk, but smaller projects that you can do at your desk with your neighbors around you that still nevertheless serve the community.”

Papia hopes things like the day of caring might inspire Hilbert students to get involved in something that’s bigger than themselves.

“When you get into a space and you are meeting people and developing relationships in the context of service, there’s just something more meaningful, there’s a bond that’s deeper,” said Papia. “There’s a passion that often can be ignited in you when you get to see and experience and learn from people who are out in the world doing the good work of social justice, and are doing it in ways the inspire you a desire to create similar change.”

Community partners include the Erie County Restorative Justice Coalition, Erie Niagara Area Health Education Center, and Native American Community Services. To make participation easier, the college will be suspending classes until 4:30 Wednesday, with the day of caring starting at 10 a.m.

News Program Coming to Hawk Radio

A newscast will soon be hitting the airwaves of Hilbert’s HAWK Radio, and it comes because of a first-of-its-kind collaboration between campus media organizations.

The Scribe and HAWK Radio are teaming up to create HAWK Radio News with Ryan Zunner, which will air Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11:30am on the online radio station. As the name suggests, Hilbert Digital Media & Communication senior Ryan Zunner will serve as anchor and news director of the newly created program.

The show will feature both original reporting from Zunner, as well as feature reports from student-journalists of The Scribe.

Dr. Donald Vincent, the faculty advisor to HAWK Radio, said a newscast has been on his radar for a while, and is excited to see it coming to fruition.

“I’ve wanted a news show on HAWK Radio for years, but it’s never happened. By being a reliable and regular information source, HAWK Radio can become part of the daily routines of Hilbert Community members,” Vincent said. “Also, news gathering and reporting fosters research and communication skills that can be translated to all careers. This is one more way we can prepare students for their futures.”

Vincent believes having Zunner at the helm of the twice-weekly newscast, it adds an extra layer of credibility and an opportunity for other students to hone their skills.

“I doubt most college stations can boast having a news director with so much professional experience,” Vincent said of Zunner’s resume. “He has worked in the field extensively through internships and paid positions, and HAWK Radio News will deliver high quality content under Ryan’s leadership. He will also mentor our less experienced students, assuring that HAWK Radio News will carry on into the future.”

Zunner throughout his studies has interned at The Investigative Post, Spectrum News Buffalo, and WBFO News, where he was recently hired as a part-time reporter. His work has at the station has earned him praise and accolades. For his coverage of social justice protests in Buffalo, Zunner appeared live on cable network MSNBC to share his reporting nationally. In addition, he’s had several pieces air on National Public Radio, the national affiliate of WBFO. In 2019, Zunner was also a co-recipient of a New York State Broadcasters Association Award of Excellence.

Zunner said he’s excited to anchor his own news show on HAWK Radio, after having been involved in HAWK Radio since 2016 in several different on-air and behind the scenes roles.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have built so many skills during my time at HAWK Radio, ones that really have put me ahead of the game in my still-early career in broadcast news,” said Zunner. “Having had tons of great opportunities, I’m excited to kind of give back to the Hilbert community in my final year by creating an informative and engaging newscast. I know I’m not going to be able to do it all alone though, so I’m definitely looking forward to working alongside the great student-journalists at The Scribe.”

The first broadcast of HAWK Radio News will air Tuesday, September 29, at 11:30am. Zunner said he hopes to create a mix of campus, Southtowns, and national news, with college students in mind.

Hilbert Community Mourns Student

The Hilbert community has been in mourning over the death of sophomore Brittnay Summers. The criminal justice major passed away in a car accident on March 31st, and her sudden death has left a shock to those at Hilbert who knew her.

“She had a smile, and was just so fun,” said her advisor, English professor Megan Witzleben. “She found her way in class, and I think embraced the idea of always striving and looking for opportunities to better herself.”

Witzleben served both as Brittnay’s advisor, as well as her English 102 professor.

“There was a unit on the British romantics, and she thought it was too far removed from her life,” Witzleben said. “But then I pointed out to her that these were people who took common speech and made it poetic. And suddenly, she loved that idea; she always had her own spin on the material, and it made it fun for all of us.”

Brittnay was always proud of her work as a security guard, holding positions both at New Era Field, and at Canalside. Brittnay had aspirations of furthering a law enforcement career either here in New York, or down south in Florida.

In a time where students are not physically together, mourning and remembering Brittany has to take a different approach for now.

“Certainly writing about her,” said Witzleben. “Writing, in a way, keeps people alive. For example with poetry, they think about how you memorialize those who have passed on through writing about them, telling stories about them, and remembering that they count and they matter. Whether they are here with us physically, or with their spirit.”

Students have been taking to writing, with junior Danny Ostroski writing the following on the tribute wall on Brittnay’s obituary page:

“I wish I was able to get to know you better. I was really looking forward to going back to school and seeing your beautiful and radiant smile that brightened my day by so much every day. You were so so sweet and a literal angel, and you always ever looked happy when I passed you in the hallways. Rest easy sweetheart, you will forever be in my heart and on my mind. We’ll miss you so much.”

Hilbert College President, Michael Brophy, told The Scribe that once campus activities resume following the COVID-19 pandemic, the school has plans to more formally memorialize her.

“The college was represented at her memorial, but only two folks could go as only ten total are allowed to be there with the virus going around,” said Brophy. “But we did promise her parents that once everything is back up and normal, we’ll have a proper memorial on campus. [The family] also requested that we plant a tree on campus in her memory, and we’ll be really happy to do that as well.”

As the community continues to mourn from afar, Margaret Smith, vice president for mission integration and campus ministry, offers some wise words.

“It’s tempting to get swept away by fear and darkness when so many things seem to be falling apart around us,” Smith said. “This is where our faith kicks in. Christian hope isn’t an emotion: it’s a virtue that takes practice and hard work. It is a decision, made over and over again, to turn to light and to trust in God when things are difficult.”

Withdrawal Date Extended

Hilbert College has announced that they will be extending the withdrawal date for courses until April 3rd in light of “recent hardships” students could be facing as a result of the shift to online learning.

In an email to students, registrar Katelyn Letiza stressed the importance for students to still go through the proper withdrawal process, albeit online.

“Students are still required to work with their advisor or the Director of Student Success and Retention to understand their options and implications of withdrawal,” said Letiza. “All withdrawals will be processed online through e-mail request, with approval from both the student and the advisor/Director of Student Success and Retention being sent to”

Hilbert President Dr. Michael Brophy said the administration will continue to evaluate changes that need to be made to help students adjust to distance learning measures.

“The recent changes are meant to help students navigate the online learning environment that we all have been thrust into.” Brophy said. “They provide more time to make decisions about withdrawing and pass or fail grades.”

The school is committed to helping students who are planning on continuing their education at Hilbert College in the Fall, Brophy said. “We put in place $1,000 scholarships for students who register for the fall by Wednesday April 15th.”

The original deadline to withdraw without penalty was March 23rd.

Rosalie Constable contributed to this report.

Hilbert Moves to Online Instruction

Hilbert College announced a suspension of all academic, residential, and student life/athletic programing effective March 15 as a result of the growing COVID-19 health pandemic affecting countries around the world. Hilbert will start their transition to online and virtual instruction until at least March 30.

“This was not an easy decision,” Hilbert President Michael Brophy said in a press release.  “We realize this will create some challenges for our Hilbert campus community. However, we are taking this action in a proactive effort to safeguard the health and wellness of our students, faculty and staff, as well as the entire Western New York community.”

Residential students will be required to move off-campus by March 14 at 5 p.m. and are instructed to bring any critical items with them, including personal effects. School organizations who have events planned with external speakers or groups between March 10 and March 30 will need to postpone, cancel or conduct virtual versions of those events, according to the release.

Students who have specific accessibility needs on campus during the break should work with academic affairs, academic services or student life to resolve those issues, Hilbert’s executive director of marketing and communications Matt Heidt said in an email to the Scribe.

More details on residential life, campus events and student expenses related to the developments will be forthcoming, he added.

As athletic programs, including all practices and workouts, are suspended, Hilbert’s baseball, softball, and lacrosse teams futures remain uncertain for the 2020 spring season.

As far as business operations at Hilbert, those are expected to continue, as the campus will remain open in an administrative capacity, with updated work-from-home policies forthcoming.

So far there are no confirmed cases of new-coronavirus in Western New York, but in downstate cities like New Rochelle the virus is spreading quickly. The area has become the largest epicenter of the virus in the United States, according to the New York Times. State officials there have designated a one-mile zone as a “containment area,” where health officials say the outbreak in the Westchester County city may have started.

The Hilbert announcement comes on the heels of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement to close down normal operations of all SUNY and CUNY institutions, which are also shifting to distance learning starting March 19.

Hilbert community members can check this website for updates.

2018 Buffalo Auto Show Showcases Industry’s Newest Models

Story and photos by Ryan Zunner

The 2018 Buffalo Auto Show was a roaring success during its four-day run at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. The show was hosted by the Niagara Frontier Automobile Dealers Association (NFADA), and showcased over 300 brand new vehicles from local dealers a part of the NFADA. Continue reading 2018 Buffalo Auto Show Showcases Industry’s Newest Models

Suspected Illegal Aliens Arrested in Hamburg

By Ryan Zunner

Agents from the U.S. Border Patrol arrested 23 suspected illegal aliens in Hamburg Monday afternoon, inside the parking lot of the 7-Eleven at the intersection of Southwestern and Sowles Road. Several Border Patrol, as well as Town of Hamburg Police, vehicles were on scene for over two hours arresting the 23 people who were apparently being transported through the area by two white cargo vans.

Local media reports that officials from the Border Patrol and its parent agency, Customs and Border Protection, are not releasing much information on the arrest at this time. They have said however, that this mass arrest was completely random, part of a regular patrol, and not the result of an organized raid. They have also released the nationalities of those arrested, and their countries of origin are all located in Central and South America.

Those officials also said that the convenience store is not connected to the arrests.

Those arrested will be transported to a federal facility in Batavia where they will be processed and held. They will eventually be processed through federal immigration court, which is also located in Batavia.

This is the second large immigration arrest that has occurred in Western New York in the past several months. Back in October, agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) capped off a two and half year investigation with a raid on four area Mexican restaurants. In that raid, 22 suspected illegal aliens were arrested, along with three people who were involved in the management of the restaurants.