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Erie County Officials Investigate "Artvoice-gate"

Maybe someone in the Rath Building stole our papers as souvenirs of Collins's one term.

Erie County’s director of real estate, Michelle Mazzone, and senior contracts administrator/FOIL officer Edward Delaney called Artvoice Monday morning to explain that they were continuing an investigation into the disappearance of 200 copies of the weekly paper that had been distributed to the county’s Rath Building on Thursday, November 3. In that week’s paper, we published editor Geoff Kelly’s cover story: an assessment of Erie County Executive Chris Collins’s first (and, as it turns out, last) term.

Apparently, the papers, which featured an illustration of Collins playing golf on the cover, disappeared in an hour. The last time such a run on the paper at the Rath Building occurred was when we published a Bruce Fisher article critical of Collins’s sense of humor: He had compared New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, an orthodox Jew, to Hitler and the Antichrist. Those papers, which also featured an unflattering illustration of Collins on the cover, disappeared suddenly, too.

Referring to the incident as “Artvoice-gate,” the jocular Mazzone explained that she and Delaney have been doing a little investigating of their own. “We went down and we talked to the security guards,” she said. “No one’s seen anything. I’m going to talk to the county attorney. I don’t think we can give you video, but I’m going to ask him what he thinks I can do. We’re trying to get to the bottom of it.”

“We take it seriously,” Delaney added. “You have a legitimate right to have your paper read, and we understand that. We want to make sure that nobody’s messing around.”

He said security isolated some spots in the building where papers were found. “In the general intake area of the third floor, social services,” he said.

“What may have happened—and this is speculation on my part—is that some of them were brought upstairs as reading material for people who are waiting for interviews,” Delaney suggested. He added that since this is the second time something like this has happened in the last year, security will be “[monitoring] that situation more closely.”

As for the security cameras that monitor the lobby where the papers are distributed every Thursday, Mazzone and Delaney could neither confirm nor deny whether or not the table where the issues are stacked would have been covered by such surveillance.

“That’s part of a law-enforcement technique, and as you know, under freedom of information, that’s exempt from FOIL. Homeland Security would kill us if we started talking—even to a member of the press—about camera angles and coverage,” Delaney explained. “We will revisit the situation, and if Michelle directs me to, I’ll revisit the situation with security.”

“We’re going to talk to the county attorney first and get some advice, and then do a little investigating of our own, and then we’ll call you back,” Mazzone said.

Asked for an update on the investigation on Wednesday before deadline, Mazzone referred the question to Ed Delaney. “Teddy was going to check with the county attorney,” she said.

We left a message for Delaney, but the call was not returned before press time.

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