Batcheller Mansion Sold

Developer Bruce Levinsky has sold the Batcheller Mansion.  Citing his age (74) Levinsky says he sold it because he is retiring.  This seems a bit odd since he told the Albany Business Review he is working on building a hotel behind the Rip Van Dam.

The new owners of the Batcheller Mansion are Vincent and Karen Abate.  They purchased the property for $1.8 million.

Mr. Abate is chief technology officer and a senior vice president at GE Global Research in Niskayuna.

They plan to maintain the mansion as an inn.

More Apartments Being Built

The Albany Business Review published a report on the continued explosion of construction  of apartments in Saratoga Springs.  Link

Burns Management, an Albany based developer, expects to complete construction of the first units of a $20,000,000.00 project by January.  They report that Burns Management has completed more than half of the first seventy apartments of a proposed one hundred and five unit complex in the Excelsior Park development.

Their president, Peter Rosencranz Jr., told the review that  “Our target market will be empty-nesters and young professionals who are looking for a walkable downtown and a maintenance free lifestyle.”

Burns Management purchased the property for $1.58 million in December from John Witt.

They plan to incorporate a mix of studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments with a rent range from somewhere under $1,100.00 per month to $2,500.00 per month.

Excelsior Park

Aerial Excelsior

Burns Project Construction Site

Burns1

Back around 2000, Home Depot attempted to build a huge box store at this location.  A groundswell of opposition defeated them.

Developers John Witt and Jeff Pfeil then proposed an ambitious development based on the buzz words “New Urbanism.”  It was supposed to create a community of homes, offices, and small retail while maximizing the green spaces and incorporating trails.

“We are creating a neighborhood, not just a development,” opined Jeff Pfeil.

The project ran into trouble.  As far as I can tell, Pfeil managed to bail.  Witt built a set of condos (see picture), but that was it.  Before the Marriott was built the Witt condos was all that happened.

I am unclear as to how much land was involved.  I have photographed the area immediately adjacent to the Witt buildings and provided an aerial view.

Witt Condos

Witt1

 

Field Of Dreams: Landscape Around Witt Condos For New Urbanism

Given the distance this project is from Broadway, it will take some very robust tenants to walk to the downtown and they will have to be very careful since there are no sidewalks for most of the way down Route 50.

AerialDistance

Mr. Witt told the Business Review that he has plans to build additional row houses there that will sell from between $200,000.00 and $400,000.00.

No one is talking about “New Urbanism.”

New Bonacio Project On Excelsior Avenue

Further south on Excelsior Avenue Sonny Bonacio is completing a large apartment complex.

Bonacio1

 

Bonaio2

BonacioAerialDistance

 

bonacioAerial

Ethics Board Routinely Violated Open Meetings Law

 

The New York State Open Meetings Law requires that proper notice be provided to the public of the time and place of meetings of governmental bodies.

Article 7, section 104 of the Public Officers Law.  (I have underscored the most pertinent section) states:

  • 104. Public notice.  Public notice of the time and place of a meeting scheduled at least one week prior thereto shall be given to the news media and shall be conspicuously posted in one or more designated public locations at least seventy-two hours before such meeting.
    1. Public notice of the time and place of every other meeting shall be given, to the extent practicable, to the news media and shall be conspicuously posted in one or more designated public locations at a reasonabl time prior thereto.
    2. The public notice provided for by this section shall not be construed to require publication as a legal notice.
    3. If videoconferencing is used to conduct a meeting, the public notice for the meeting shall inform the public that videoconferencing will be used, identify the locations for the meeting, and state that the public has the right to attend the meeting at any of the locations.
    4. When a public body has the ability to do so, notice of the time and place of a meeting given in accordance with subdivision one or two of this section, shall also be conspicuously posted on the public body’s internet website.

 

All the other major city boards adhere to this requirement.   They meet on a specific schedule so that members of the public can anticipate when the meetings will occur.  In addition, they post their agendas as part of the notice requirement at least seventy-two hours prior to their meetings so that the public will know when they will meet and what business they will be addressing.

In contrast, the Ethics Board meets on no schedule.  The randomness of their meetings makes it impossible to anticipate when they will gather.  I also happened to discover last June that they did not publish their agenda until the actual day of their meeting nor did they post any other form of notice on the website.

When I inquired of Justin Hogan, the chair of the Ethics Board, why there was no notice of their meeting posted on a timely basis as required by law, he informed me that they post their notices on a bulletin board in city hall.

I subsequently wrote to the Mayor and copied, among others, Mr. Hogan citing the requirement that they post the notice and agenda on the city’s website at least seventy-two hours prior to their meetings.  I included a citation of the law and asked whether there were any extenuating circumstances or if I was somehow misreading the law.  This was in an email dated July 10 (see below).  Neither Mayor Yepsen nor Mr. Hogan responded.

I was interested in how extensive this problem was so I FOILed the city for the agendas of the Ethics Board this year and the dates that these agendas were posted on the city web site (The agendas serving the dual need for both notice of meeting and the business to be transacted).  As the documents below show, every agenda was posted on the date the meeting occurred.    In other words, at a minimum, the Ethics Board failed to issue proper notice to the public at any of its meetings so far this year.

Interestingly, the FOIL also produced a redacted email from Marilyn Rivers who serves on the Ethics Board and works in the city’s Accounts office. In it she states that she “posted our last meeting on the bulletin board.”

Missing from her email is what exactly she posted, which bulletin board she posted whatever it was she posted on, and most importantly, when she posted the item.

It is quite disturbing that a board charged with insuring the ethical standards for our city should not only violate a very important law, but that its chair and the Mayor should refuse to even acknowledge that there is any issue.

Dates Ethics Agendas Were Posted


Kaufmann John - FOIL Response w-Docs-2
Dates Agendas Were Posted On City Website

 

[Agendas: Note that dates of meetings match dates of postings]

Kaufmann John - FOIL Response w-Docs-4a

 

 

Kaufmann John - FOIL Response w-Docs-5a

Kaufmann John - FOIL Response w-Docs-6a

Kaufmann John - FOIL Response w-Docs-7a

 

Kaufmann John - FOIL Response w-Docs-8a


Kaufmann John - FOIL Response w-Docs-3

Email To Yepsen et. al.

From:    John Kaufmann []

Sent:     Sunday, July 10, 2016 12:55 PM

To:          ‘Joanne Yepsen’

Cc:          ‘Christian Mathiesen’; ‘Michele Madigan’; ‘Skip Sciroco’; ‘John Franck’;

‘Tony Izzo’; ‘Vincent DeLeonardis’; ‘Justin Hogan’

Subject:               Potential Violation Of Open Meetings Law

 

I am writing you regarding an apparent violation of the Open Meetings Law by

the Ethics Board. As confirmed by Justin Hogan, its chair, his Board met on

June 20, 2016. Even as of today, July 9th, there is no record of this meeting on

the City web site, let alone a record of notice to the public that such a meeting

would be convened.

I contacted Mr. Hogan regarding this apparent failure and he responded by

stating that the notice was allegedly “posted” on June 14. In part because he

did not share with me where or how this posting took place, I did visit City

Hall today. There are a number of bulletin boards on the first floor of the

building, and I did find a bulletin board in the City Planning Office with the

title “Meeting Agendas” affixed to it. While it is possible that timely notice of

the meeting was posted on that space, now, some weeks following the Board’s

meeting, there is no such notice on the bulletin board regarding the June 20

meeting. As far as I can tell, there is no record that the June 20 meeting was

ever properly posted so as to give meaningful notice to the public of that

event. Accordingly, would you please inform me by email as to by whom the

notice was posted, and its location(s)?

The following are the requirements for notices to the public of meetings under

Article 7, section 104 of the Public Officers Law. (I have underscored the most

pertinent section):

  • 104. Public notice.
  1. Public notice of the time and place of a meeting scheduled at least one

week prior thereto shall be given to the news media and shall be

conspicuously posted in one or more designated public locations at least

seventy-two hours before such meeting.

  1. Public notice of the time and place of every other meeting shall be

given, to the extent practicable, to the news media and shall be

conspicuously posted in one or more designated public locations at a

reasonable time prior thereto.

  1. The public notice provided for by this section shall not be construed to

require publication as a legal notice.

  1. If videoconferencing is used to conduct a meeting, the public notice

for the meeting shall inform the public that videoconferencing will be

used, identify the locations for the meeting, and state that the public has

the right to attend the meeting at any of the locations.

  1. When a public body has the ability to do so, notice of the time

and place of a meeting given in accordance with subdivision one

or two of this section, shall also be conspicuously posted on the

public body’s internet website.

Drawing from the above, even if there was documentation to show that a

notice was posted on a bulletin board in City Hall, the statutory

requirement for notices of meetings would not have been met. Based on

my correspondence with Mr. Hogan, it would appear that the Ethics

Board has been violating this provision for some time. While not

venturing a legal opinion here, it is my understanding that any business

transacted at a meeting that lacks proper notice is not valid.

Timing appears rather important here because the Ethics Board is

currently dealing with a controversial inquiry. It would be unfortunate

were the Board to publish an opinion whose authority is undermined by

something as elemental as lack of required public notice, before this

matter is resolved.

Thank you.

 

City Council Sends Affordable Housing Zoning Proposal to County and City Planning Boards

At last Tuesday’s City Council meeting the Council unanimously voted to pass on the affordable housing zoning proposal offered by Sustainable Saratoga to the county and city planning boards. 

In today’s (August 20) Saratogian, reporter Travis Clark wrote that at the city council meeting, Mayor Yepsen told the council that she had received a letter from the Saratoga Builders Association supporting the proposed ordinance.   Clark went on to write that the letter from the Association was dated August 1 which pre-dated Sustainable Saratoga’s proposal.   Mr. Clark contacted Barry Potoker, the SBA Executive Director. He contradicted the Mayor, telling Clark that his group is not supporting the proposal at this time.

It will be interesting to see what the county and city planning boards do with the proposal.  Both boards are dominated by the developer/builder network.  If they endorse the proposal, I expect it to sail on to adoption.  If they oppose the proposal, given the history of the council, it will be in some jeopardy.

 

Exchange Of Letters Between Political Players Extends Yepsen Ethics Controversy

In the last two issues of Saratoga Today there have been four letters related to the Ethics Boards decision regarding Joanne Yepsen and Saratoga Hospital.  The first two letters appeared simultaneously last week. They were from Ken KIotz who is a former Democratic Mayor of the city and from John Herrick who is chairman of the Saratoga County Republicans.  Mr. Klotz gives a full throated defense of Mayor Yepsen and criticizes the other Democrats on the City Council for their criticisms of Mayor Yepsen.  Mr. Herrick lays out a case as to how he sees the Mayor as having violated  the ethics code and calls for her to resign.  In the subsequent letters published this week, Commissioners Madigan and Mathiesen respond to Mr. Klotz.  Together, these letters pretty much lay out the issues as viewed from a variety of perspectives.


Klotz Letter: Ethics and the Code of Conduct in Saratoga Springs

I vividly remember attending a workshop on ethics conducted by the New York Council of Mayors for newly-elected officials after I was elected Mayor of Saratoga Springs in 1999. The speaker opened by emphasizing the complexity of the topic, asserting that some actions many people would see as ethically suspect were in fact entirely permissible, while other actions that seemed innocent actually ran afoul of ethical regulations. The issue is not as simple as it might appear.

State Municipal Law recognizes this in Article 18, identifying the goal of establishing rules of conduct that are “not only clear but reasonable,” one that will permit elected officials “to share the normal  benefits of the democratic society and economy they serve.” “Real conflict must be rooted out, without condemning the inconsequential.” As a resident of Saratoga Springs I have an interest in low taxes. This does not create an impermissible conflict of interest for me as Mayor when I vote for a low-tax budget.

Mayor Joanne Yepsen has supported herself as a professional consultant for over fifteen years, specializing in advising not-for profit organizations. In the course of her professional career she has worked for most of the major not-for-profit organizations in Saratoga Springs, often pro bono or for reduced rates, and has served on several of their boards. These organizations include among others Saratoga Arts, Saratoga PLAN, Saratoga Shakespeare,  Saratoga Springs-Chekhov Sister City, Inc., and Saratoga Hospital. She has long been an advocate of our local not-for-profit institutions and supported them for their vital contributions to our community’s quality of life.

I find it understandable that in a casual, informal, off-the-cuff setting she should mention her continued availability to pursue her routine professional activity. And when an issue concerning Saratoga Hospital before a city board became increasingly controversial, I find it understandable too that both the Mayor and Saratoga Hospital agreed that these informal contacts should be broken off to protect against even the appearance of a conflict of interest. But I disagree with the city’s Board of Ethics claiming a violation of state ethics rules of conduct for these contacts,   which is not a “reasonable” application of rules that specifically exempt “inconsequential” actions.

And I strongly disagree with the City Council’s majority harassing the Mayor mercilessly on the subject, disrupting meeting after meeting with bullying and insults that make a shambles of the City’s own Rules for Conduct at Public meetings. These rules, passed unanimously by the same individuals currently on the Council, correctly identify the Mayor as the presiding officer, as is clear from the City Charter. Rule 3b then reads as follows: “Council members shall make every effort to avoid interrupting another Council member’s speaking. In situations where interruptions become frequent, the Mayor…shall have the authority to determine the order in which Council members will peak.” These rules have been violated dozens of times by sitting members of the Council at recent meetings.

I urge residents to view the videos of recent Council meetings and judge for themselves whether this is the way they want to see the City’s business conducted.

Kenneth Klotz

Mayor, City of Saratoga, Springs, 2000-2003


Herrick Letter: Yepsen Should Resign

The Saratoga Springs City Council has voted to approve a $12,000 payment for the personal attorney of Mayor Joanne Yepsen. The mayor hired the attorney, on her own, to represent her in an ethics hearing prompted by her actions seeking personal employment with Saratoga Hospital, when the hospital had pending business before the City Council.

There are two problems with taxpayers footing the bill for Mayor Yepsen’s personal attorney. First, the mayor did not follow the City’s required purchasing practices when hiring the attorney. Had she followed proper purchasing practices, taxpayers would have either gotten a better deal or, more importantly, been saved $12,000 if the purchase order was rejected.

The second problem is the actual vote, which was 3-2 in favor of paying the attorney. Mayor Yepsen inappropriately participated in the vote to hire an attorney to represent her during a city ethics probe, clearly a direct benefit to her personal interests. Mayor Yepsen should have recused herself from the vote due to the obvious conflict of interest.  Once again, Mayor Yepsen has put her personal interest before that of the taxpayers.

It is very clear that the hiring of the attorney was to give her representation during the ethics investigation regarding her conflict of interest as her role as mayor and her efforts seeking employment with Saratoga Hospital. Something is clearly amiss; the city already has two attorneys on staff and insurance to cover for matters related to her role as mayor. However, insurance coverage typically does not provide for legal representation when a violation of the law, or, in the case of Mayor Yepsen, enacted Code of Ethics occurs.

Mayor Yepsen fails to understand when it is necessary to recuse herself from voting. She recused herself on the hospital project vote AFTER she was told she would not be hired by the hospital and she failed to recuse herself when the vote directly benefited her to the tune of $12,000 worth of taxpayer money. Mayor Yepsen should resign for her ethics violations and failure to put the Saratoga Springs taxpayers first.

John Herrick

Saratoga County Republican Chairman


Madigan Letter

I am writing in response to a letter published on August 12 in Saratoga TODAY by former Mayor Ken Klotz regarding Mayor Yepsen and her behavior in the Saratoga Hospital matter. Mayor Klotz misstated the facts in his Op /Ed piece in his zeal to continue to defend his good friend Mayor Yepsen, and he errs in several important, documented, and to date – undisputed timeline facts.

Mayor Klotz claims that Yepsen merely informed the Hospital of her “continued availability to pursue her routine professional activity”, “in a casual, informal, off-the-cuff setting”.

The fact pattern and timeline say otherwise (visit http://saratogatodaynewspaper.com/images/stories/archive/2016/email/document1.pdf).

In October 2015, Mayor Yepsen scheduled a meeting with the Hospital to solicit engagement as a grant writer, and over a period of months sent several follow-up emails pursuing a contract with them. This is neither informal nor off-the-cuff, and is a bit more proactive than merely informing the Hospital that she still performed such work.

Mayor Klotz then goes on to claim that both the Mayor and Hospital jointly agreed that these “informal” discussions should be ended due to the appearance of impropriety. Again, a look at the actual facts, which are available to all interested parties, shows that on January 14, Mayor Yepsen sent an e-mail to the Hospital inquiring as to the status of their “negotiations”, and later that day she received a response saying that due to the potential for an appearance of impropriety or conflict of interest, the Hospital was not comfortable doing business with her while she is in office.

Yepsen responded the following morning that she had already consulted her “legal team” had “gone through the proper channels” to “ensure the highest integrity and transparency” and that she was “eager to get started”. The Hospital responded again that, notwithstanding her assurances, they were not interested in engaging her services.

Four days later the Mayor recused herself from a vote on the Hospital’s PUD amendment application, falsely claiming that she was involved in ongoing negotiations with them. Furthermore, in a February 19 meeting with myself, my Deputy, and the two City attorneys – a full 5 weeks after the Hospital had explicitly refused her solicitations – the Mayor said that she had reached agreement to perform work for the Hospital, that they were finalizing the contract, and that that is why she approached the Ethics Board and recused herself from the PUD vote.

It is troubling that the former Mayor would so badly misstate facts and then claim that I and my fellow Commissioners, in our efforts to untangle the web of untruths spun by Mayor Yepsen to determine the true nature and extent of what transpired between the Mayor and Saratoga Hospital, are somehow harassing and bullying her.

So, according to Ken Klotz, refusing to be lied to is a form of harassment. I, too, encourage those interested in the truth to view the full videos of our Council meetings. The facts are clear.

Michele Madigan, Commissioner of Finance


 Mathiesen Letter

August 13, 2016

To the Editor of Saratoga Today,

A response is in order regarding two letters to the editor that appeared in last week’s Saratoga Today. Both letters focused on Mayor Yepsen and her most recent controversies.

John Herrick, who is finishing his term as Saratoga County Republican Chairman, stated that Mayor Yepsen should resign because of her ‘ethics violations and failure to put Saratoga Springs residents first’. While I agree, as does the City Ethics Board, that Mayor Yepsen has made some serious mistakes regarding her interactions with the Saratoga Hospital Foundation during the time that Saratoga Hospital was appearing before the City and seeking her affirmative vote on a zoning issue and that the Mayor should have come before the City Council before hiring an outside law firm to defend her during the related Ethics Board hearings, I do not believe that the Mayor should resign.  She is a duly elected member of the City Council who has, to the best of my knowledge, broken no laws.

As far as the $12,430 expenditure that City taxpayers will incur to pay the Mayor’s lawyers, I agree that our citizens should be angry with the Mayor, Commissioner and me, the three Council members who voted in favor of paying these fees. Despite my feeling that the Mayor should have come before the Council before hiring an outside attorney if she was expecting the City to pay for her expenses, I do not believe that City Council members, all of whom are grossly undercompensated for their services to the City, should have to pay out of pocket for legal fees related to their official duties.  While I agree that, in this instance, the definition of official duties is murky at best, the solution is to make sure that such a scenario never takes place again.  The City must create easily discernible guidelines for hiring of and paying for outside legal resources.

Former Mayor Klotz wrote about the many groups and organizations that Mayor Yepsen has supported through the years. He is absolutely right about that.  However, he goes on to disagree with the Ethics Board decision regarding the Mayor’s activities with the Saratoga Hospital Foundation.  It is hard for me to imagine former Mayor Klotz or any other current or former City official negotiating a private business arrangement with an entity that was an integral part of an organization seeking their vote without realizing the stark conflict of interest.

Former Mayor Klotz goes on to complain of other Council members mercilessly harassing and bullying the Mayor. I have received E mails from Mr. Klotz in the past complaining that I was mis-treating the Mayor when disagreements surfaced at the Council table.  While I am envious of the unwavering support that Joanne Yepsen seems to enjoy as evidenced by the frequent comments of Mr. Klotz and a small number of others, I do not believe that I have ever bullied or harassed her.  There have been a number of significant issues raised while Joanne Yepsen has been mayor that have resulted in our disagreements.  I continue to work for what I feel is best for the Saratoga Springs community and I hope that Mayor Yepsen, my fellow Democrat, can learn from her mistakes and divorce herself from certain special interests.

Former Mayor Klotz concluded his letter by urging Saratogians to view recordings of City Council meetings. On this, we agree.

Chris Mathiesen, Saratoga Springs Commissioner of Public Safety

 

 

SPAC Announces New President/CEO

Based on her resume, the new SPAC director looks very promising.

[From August 18 Saratogian]

SPAC names new leader

Sobol

Elizabeth Sobol, who will become the new president and CEO of Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Oct. 1. Photo provided

By newsroom@saratogian.com, ,, @SaratogianNews on Twitter

Posted: 08/18/16, 1:13 PM EDT |

SARATOGA SPRINGS >> Saratoga Performing Arts Center has chosen its new leader to bring the organization into its next chapter.

Elizabeth Sobol was announced this week as the new president and CEO of SPAC, to follow outgoing chief Marcia White.

Formerly the president and CEO of Universal Music Classics and managing director of IMG Artists in North/South America, Sobol brings to the position decades of artist management and recording industry experience in both the classic arts and mainstream entertainment along with a commitment to breaking down barriers between the two.

Her position at the venue, which is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary year, will begin on Oct. 1.

SPAC recruiters chose Sobol in hopes she will bring diverse experiences and a determination to bring great music and dance in all its guises to SPAC audiences.

“We are excited to welcome Elizabeth Sobol as SPAC’s next president and CEO,” said Susan Phillips Read, chairman of SPAC’s Board of Directors, in a press release. “Elizabeth is a seasoned executive whose artistic and musical interests and experience range from straightforward classical to pop, jazz, world music and dance. All of this makes her an ideal fit for SPAC, with its eclectic mix of programming. As SPAC concludes its 50th anniversary season, the board was struck by Elizabeth’s imagination and vision for expanding SPAC’s future reach and audiences.”

Sobol said in the release she is delighted to join the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, which she called “a vital artistic institution that is clearly cherished by its enthusiastic and curious audiences.” Sobol noted many artists she has worked with over the years have enjoyed performing on the SPAC stage.

“I am looking forward to deepening SPAC’s artistic partnerships with the Philadelphia Orchestra, New York City Ballet, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Live Nation to curate SPAC’s signature blend of programming,” Sobol continued. “I have really fallen in love with the culture and ethos that is in abundance in Saratoga Springs and look forward to being a part of and contributing to this community.”

Before coming to SPAC, Sobol most recently served as president and CEO of Universal Music Classics (UMC) where she successfully ran the American home for the prestigious Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Mercury Classics and ECM imprints, along with the revitalized UMC label, which Sobol oversaw from Universal’s New York headquarters. Sobol’s vision for the label included a commitment to the best that “classics” stands for: music rooted in the classical tradition, while also encompassing a variety of genres including contemporary, jazz, and world and a focus on US-based artists and repertoire that represented diverse genres.

As managing director of IMG Artists North/South America (IMGA), Sobol was widely considered one of the most well-respected and creative artist managers in the business, overseeing many popular artists, the press release said. Sobol created the IMG Artists Dance Division, and also created and oversaw IMGA’s initiatives and growth in the areas of world music, jazz, contemporary music and music/dance theatricals.

During Sobol’s nearly three-decade tenure at IMG Artists, she nurtured the careers of some of the music world’s most respected artists including violinist Joshua Bell.

“I have worked with Elizabeth Sobol in many capacities over the past thirty years and believe she is one of the true gems in our industry,” Bell said in the release. “She has a tremendous ear for great music, matched by a heart filled with passion and a commitment to bringing out the best in every artist she works with and project she touches. I have no doubt she will bring that enthusiasm and commitment to SPAC.”

From 2006 to 2012, Sobol was programmer and producer of the Festival of the Arts BOCA, which included many of IMGA’s premier clients, as well as cultural figures such as Salman Rushdie, Edward Albee, David Brooks and Doris Kearns Goodwin. In the recording sphere, Sobol has been executive producer of numerous albums, three of which have garnered Grammy nominations.

Sobol studied at Sarah Lawrence College and the Rotterdam Conservatory. She received her Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance from the North Carolina School of the Arts.

White, who will soon end her leadership role at SPAC, added “As SPAC’s 50th Anniversary Celebration comes to a close, I am thrilled to pass the baton to Elizabeth Sobol. Her proven record as an arts manager and her passion for the arts are testaments to the leadership and inspiration that she will bring to our exceptional venue. I wish her great success and will be cheering her on in the years to come.”