The Election Season Is Beginning Early And Doesn’t Appear To Bode Well

As some background, the local primaries have been moved up significantly creating a bit of a scramble for some.

 New York State used to hold its primaries in the fall.  In 2012 the Federal Government requested that New York move the primaries for US Senate and the House of Representatives up to June in order to insure that military and overseas ballots had sufficient time to be received and counted.  At the time the State Legislature considered moving the state primaries up to the same June date.  The New York State Assembly controlled by the Democrats supported the change but the Senate where the Republicans were in control rejected the change.  The Republicans argued that because the legislative session ran through June, they would not have enough time to campaign. 

 According to an excellent article in the New York Times  that explains all this, “New York’s bifurcated primaries, however, have caused the state to spend millions of dollars more; at the same time, having two separate primaries can also suppress voter interest, election law experts and state officials say.”  The Times story goes into more detail about other problems with having primaries occur on two different dates.

 So in January when the Democrats took over the New York Senate they passed a package of reforms which included adjusting the dates for state primaries.  According to a January 10 article in the New York Times :

The proposals are a veritable wish list for those who have blamed New York’s laws for driving down voter turnout. The measures include allowing early voting, preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds and consolidating state and federal primary elections, which are now held in different months.”

 “Lawmakers also plan to pass bills to allow vote-by-mail and same-day voter registration, though those proposals will also require voter referendums — and passage by the next Legislature, scheduled to be seated in 2021 — as they change the State Constitution.”

 The legislature is also considering bill to limit the contributions and require reporting for LLC’s.  These are Limited Liability Corporations which have been used to hide the ownership of these LLC’s while allowing large contributions.

 So all primary elections this year will be on June 25th.  This means that candidates will be able to start circulating petitions on February 26.  The petitions must be submitted to the local board of elections between April 1 and April 4.

 The Saratoga Springs Democratic Party has set up a committee to consider endorsements.  The committee is in the process of interviewing candidates, and the City Democratic Committee will vote on endorsements on Saturday, February 23.


So Who May Be Running For Saratoga Springs City Council Seats In The Upcoming November Election?

 Here is the latest information I have on the Democratic field of candidates.  I assume that all the council seats will be contested in the coming primary.

Definitely Running:

Meg Kelly – Mayor

John Franck – Accounts

Michele Madigan – Finance

Eileen Finneran – Public Safety

Skip Scirocco (Republican) – Public Works

 Extremely Likely To Be Running:

Dylan Moran – Public Works

 Rumored to Be Running:

Bob Turner – Mayor

Billy McTygue – Accounts

Kendall Hicks – Public Safety


 

An Exchange With Shafer Gaston That Suggests What The Primaries and Elections May Be Like

 To Shafer Gaston from John Kaufmann on January 9 at 3:39 PM

I was told that you had solicited Ron Kim to run for mayor.  I wanted to confirm whether that is true.

To John Kaufmann from Shafer Gaston on February 9 at 3:59 PM

It is true.  He declined.

To Shafer Gaston from John Kaufmann on February 9 at 7:18 PM

 Interested in why you are seeking someone to replace Mayor Kelly

 To John Kaufmann from Shafer Gaston on February 9 at 7:21 PM

 At the time, Mayor Kelly had not announced she was running for re-election.  Unfortunately, due to the compressed timeline that few people were expecting, if there were going to be candidates for city offices they would need to announce much earlier (and therefore be approached much earlier) than in previous years to make the timeline.

 To Shafer Gaston from John Kaufmann on February 9 at 7:43 PM

 Why wouldn’t you check with her first?

To John Kaufmann from Shafer Gaston on February 9 at 8:42 PM

 On the other hand, why would I check with her first?

 

 

 

 

Will A SHORELINE HILLSIDE OF DECAYING TREE STUMPS PRESERVE AND ENHANCE THE SCENIC BEAUTY OF SARATOGA LAKE? THE TOWN OF SARATOGA SEEMS TO THINK SO.

Sometime ago I did a post on a development that John Witt is pursuing that would affect Saratoga Lake and the slopes that abut it.

Recently I was contacted by John Cashin who has been active in opposing this project.  Mr. Cashin has put up the good fight in trying to protect the area.  Recent events surrounding the chairman of the town of Saratoga’s Planning Board chairman add to the ugliness of the  situation.  I offered Mr. Cashin to be a guest writer for my blog to share with the readers the most recent developments.

The following is a brief biography of Mr. Cashin:

John Cashin is an attorney and has been a resident of the Town of Saratoga since 1984.  He practiced law for over forty years in both the private and public sectors. Now semi-retired, he serves as a member of the board of directors of the Saratoga Lake Association and chairs its Community Affairs Committee. Mr. Cashin is an ardent advocate for Saratoga Lake and was one of the founders of the Saratoga Open Space Preservation Committee.

john@jcashinlaw.com

www.jcashinlaw.com


Will A SHORELINE HILLSIDE OF DECAYING TREE STUMPS PRESERVE AND ENHANCE THE SCENIC BEAUTY OF SARATOGA LAKE?

THE TOWN OF SARATOGA SEEMS TO THINK SO.

Local officials in most rural and sub urbanizing areas1 have made a long-term choice to abandon conventional subdivision development in favor of conservation or open space development which preserves the rural character of our communities. Conservation subdivisions allow the same overall amount of development that is already permitted. The key difference is that this technique requires new construction to be located or clustered on only a portion, typically half, of the parcel.  The remaining open space is preserved in perpetuity for the benefit of the community for generations to come.

The beauty of open space subdivision zoning is that it is easy to administer, does not take development potential away from the developer and can be extremely effective in permanently protecting a substantial portion of diminishing forested lands. It does not require large public expenditures to purchase development rights or acquire land outright and allows farmers and others to extract their rightful equity without seeing their entire land holding bulldozed for complete coverage by housing lots.  By clustering the homes in one area, towns can preserve certain types of irreplaceable natural resources, protect a watershed or preserve other scenic features of a hill crest and mature tree stands. Ongoing stewardship of the set aside open space is typically the responsibility of a homeowners’ association (HOA), deeded to the municipality or a land trust under a permanent conservation easement.  Appropriation of the open space to an individual lot owner disenfranchises the community of the natural setting of what should be set aside for the benefit of the community.

The Town of Saratoga recognized the value of open space preservation in the Town’s Comprehensive Plan with its stated intent to focus on “…preservation of the most environmentally sensitive lands. These lands include steep slopes, floodplains, wetlands, mixed forests and streams, together with a protection corrido on both sides.  The long-term goal is to preserve one-hundred percent of these sensitive environmental resources.In conjunction with the Comprehensive Plan, Saratoga’s zoning code reflects the goals of protecting our rural character, scenic beauty and natural resources.  The Town’s zoning code for Conservation Subdivision Development specifies that its “…primary consideration will be focused on the preservation of forest lands, open space and viable farmland, provide residential developments that respect, conserve and enhance current topography, natural habitats, forests, hydrological, archeological, historical and visual features of the town.”3

While the goals, intents and purposes espoused by the Town are laudable, they can only be brought to fruition by rigorous adherence to and enforcement of our zoning code against those developers and their lawyers who persistently attempt to ignore them. A case in point is the Cedar Bluff Subdivision application now before the Town Planning Board. This Conservation Subdivision covering 111.6 acres consists of 32 homes clustered on 58.0 acres above Saratoga Lake. The allegedly “Preserved Open Space” portion of the parcel covers 54.27 acres which is largely steeply sloped, forested land. The trouble is the application calls for the complete clearing of the 54+ acre forest in the “Preserved Open Space” to create lake views from the housing lots above it. Contrary to science on the topic, to prevent erosion and sediment from flowing off the steep slopes into Saratoga Lake, the plan is to leave the tree stumps on those slopes. In papers filed with its application, the developer indicates this will have “No Impact” on the Town’s aesthetic resources.

As your average fourth-grader knows, tree stumps are dead. Dead things don’t grow; they decay. In fact, depending on the tree variety – hard-wood versus soft-wood­­ – a tree stump will lose between one-fifth and one-third of its biomass in the first two years.4 This can accelerate in the warmer months when insect infestation is more likely. Hillside tree stump retention is only suggested in forestry when immediate tree replanting is implemented. The theory is that stump retention may serve to obstruct ‘sheet-flow’ stormwater run-off until replacement trees’ root systems are established. This was all explained in a research paper prepared for the Planning Board by Dr. Thomas Yannios. Unfortunately, no replacement trees are included in this application as they would eventually obstruct lake views from the million-dollar homes on the hilltop.

It is stunning to think that the Planning Board is accepting this proposal without question. As the December 19th meeting minutes reflect, “Chairman Ian Murray asked if there were any Board questions; there were none.”  How is it possible that a Planning Board of 8 people appointed to serve the interests of the residents of our town, can review this proposal in detail and not raise a single question? Were they intimidated into silence by the developer or the non-resident Planning Board Chairman? Can you imagine how an entire hillside of decaying tree stumps will enhance the scenic beauty of our community? As the stump decay continues over time, without replacement trees, how will this prevent erosion and runoff into the lake? A panel of fourth-graders would do better.  In the end, the community gets to look at Nature’s junkyard, while the million-dollar-home owners get their lake views. If this doesn’t incite outrage among our residents, nothing will.

Dense clusters of trees on steep slopes slated to be cleared with only stumps remaining

To make matters worse, the cleared open space will be owned, not by an HOA or any other independent body as required under the zoning code. Rather, one lot owner will have exclusive ownership of what should be perpetual, set aside open space preserved for the benefit of the community. Such privatization and obliteration of the forest are not what was contemplated and promoted in the zoning code nor the Town’s Comprehensive Plan. Yet, at the December meeting, not a single question was raised, as members of the public in attendance were prohibited from speaking.

These drastic deviations from the Comprehensive Plan and zoning code set the trajectory of future development as other developers demand similar treatment. The Planning Board appears poised to approve this travesty. It can only happen if a groundswell of lake community residents fails to object. Several Town activists have provided the Planning Board with extensive letters, legal memos and technical papers. To date neither the Town Board nor the Planning Board have offered any response on the merits of these submissions.  It appears we are all being dismissed as mere NIMBY’s by the ‘we know better’ Planning Board. Believe me, you can’t make this stuff up. It is there for all to see in the minutes of the Planning Board meetings on March 26th and December 19th as well as numerous documents filed with the Board.

http://www.townofsaratoga.com/contactinformation/December%2019%202018%20Planning%20Board%20Minutes.htm

http://www.townofsaratoga.com/contactinformation/March%2028%202018%20Planning%20Board%20Minutes.htm

If you care about conservation of open space, protection of Saratoga Lake, enforcement of the zoning code, preservation of our Town’s scenic beauty and rural character, please write or call Town Supervisor, Tom Wood, and ask him to protect our irreplaceable natural resources for the future generations of our Town. Tell your friends and family members to do the same. If we don’t express our concerns now, we’ll be living with the consequences forever.

(twood@albany.twcbc.com; (518) 695-3644 ext. 314; 695-4034, 695-3263; FAX: (518) 695-6782)

 

  1. A notable exception is the proliferation of high density Planned Development Districts (PDD’s) on the lake shore in the Town of Stillwater (see: https://www.timesunion.com/7dayarchive/article/Stillwater-tries-to-speed-up-process-for-11739895.php)
  2. Town of Saratoga Comprehensive Land Use Plan – Statement of Issues, Goals and Recommendations at Chapter 2-1. (2002) (available at: http://www.townofsaratoga.com/contactinformation/Comprehensive%20Land%20use%20Plan%201aa.pdf)
  3. Town of Saratoga Zoning Code Section 400-14. Conservation Subdivision Development (available at: https://ecode360.com/11101341)
  4. “Stump Removal in Landscapes”, Dr. Kim D. Coder, Professor of Tree Biology & Health Care Warnell School of Forestry & Natural Resources, University of Georgia, May 2014, at p. 17.

https://www.warnell.uga.edu/sites/default/files/publications/Stump%20Removal%20pub_14-8.pdf

 

Additional information Along With A Correction Regarding Saratoga Casino Hotel’s Proposed Project

A friend who is far better informed than I am regarding the details of planning sent me some corrections and additional information regarding the Racino’s (I will always think of them as the Racino rather than Saratoga Casino Hotel).  This person told me he was surprised that this proposal had enough legs to be even under consideration.  This person told me that the way the Racino is attempting to have the property rezoned would be so broad that they could make the whole thing a parking lot.  This is one of the reasons the Planning Board unanimously rejected the project.

In order to construct their project they must amend both the city’s comprehensive plan (text and map) and the city’s zoning (text and map).

The current comprehensive plan’s text defines what a “Residential Neighborhood” is and what “Equine and Related Facilities” are.  The Racino needs to get the city to change the designation of this area from Residential Neighborhood to Equine and Related Facilities  

Here is the definition for “Residential Neighborhood-1 (RN-1) and Residential Neighborhood-2 (RN-2)

Residential Neighborhood -1 (RN-1) and Residential Neighborhood- 2 (RN-2) The Residential Neighborhood-1 and Residential Neighborhood-2 designations are characterized by single family residential uses with moderate density two family. While a mix of housing types is present, these areas retain the basic character of single-family neighborhoods, such as front and rear yards, driveways, and garages. Small, neighborhood-scale commercial uses may currently exist to complement the residential uses. RN-1 Note: The maximum density is 3.5 Units/Acre. RN-2 Note: The maximum density is 7 Units/Acre.

 Here is the definition for “Equine and Related Facilities”:

 Equine and Related Facilities (EQ) The Equine and Related Facilities designation includes areas utilized by the equine industry and supporting facilities. Such areas include, but are not limited to, the thoroughbred race track, harness track, stables, racing museum, sales barns, parking and feed stores. This designation represents a significant contribution to the City’s tourism economy. This designation is also envisioned to allow for supporting facilities such as employee housing and businesses that are essential to the equine industry’s sustainability and future success in the City. Uses and design within this designation must be sensitive to the surrounding neighborhoods.

 The current zoning describes  “Rural Residential” and “Institutional – Horse Track Related’.  The Racino needs to change the zoning from Rural Residential to Institutional – Horse Track Related

The intent of “Rural Residential” reads:

To provide low density residential and agricultural uses in order to preserve open space and a rural character. Limiting topography, soil condition, slopes and lack of public infrastructure also warrant the low densities.

The intent of “Institutional Horse Track Related” reads:

To accommodate uses that supplement and complement the horse track operations,  

 Here is the information this person sent me:

Comprehensive Plan Map Amendment: Applicant is seeking to change the 2015 Comp Plan designation of this site from “Residential Neighborhood-1 (RN-1)” (single family uses at max density of 3.5 units/acre) to “Equine & Related Facilities”.

Comprehensive Plan Text Amendment: Applicant is seeking to change the 2015 Comp Plan text description of the “Equine &Related Facilities” land use category to allow multi-family residential uses.

Zoning Map Amendment: Applicant is seeking to change the current zoning map for this site from “Rural Residential” (low density residential max density of 0,5 units/acre) to “Institutional – Horse Track Related”.

Zoning Text Amendment: Applicant is also seeking a text amendment that would allow multi-family residential use in the Institutional – Horse Track Related zoning district.

Greenbelt:  The site is NOT in the greenbelt. The 2015 Comp Plan (on page 61) defines the “greenbelt” as those areas within the Country Overlay District Map.  The site is NOT within the boundaries of the Country Overlay District.

 

 

Wendy Liberatore and Blogger Spar Over Journalism

Following the publishing of Wendy Liberatore’s profile of the first year of Mayor Meg Kelly’s term of office, she and I had a series of email exchanges.  To her credit, Ms. Liberatore is quite willing to engage concerning her work at the Times Union.  From my perspective, these exchanges highlighted some fundaments problems with her approach to journalism. 

Several things come across in this exchange.  Most prominent is Ms. Liberatore’s cavalier attitude towards facts and context. Ms. Liberatore was previously employed by the Daily Gazette as its arts reporter.  She appears to approach regular news reporting as a columnist with an interest in the dramatic potential of stories rather than in how representative they are about actual events. 

Her emails provide a broader narrative which presents Joanne Yepsen as the victim of what Ms. Liberatore characterizes as a “three to two divide” on the City Council.  She characterizes Ms. Yepsen as the target of “repression” by this “divide.”  The readers will note that when I press her for specifics regarding who comprises the respective players of this divide she is evasive.  More to the point, when I press her to demonstrate examples of the divide she appears little interested in the actual details.  Her emails show her as relying on unnamed “city insiders” with little in the way of actual events.

It is entirely legitimate for reporters to rely on people who do not wish to be identified.  The problem I have is that she appears to rely on these people in spite of the fact that much of the so-called  information they are providing her is inaccurate and yet she seems to be disinterested in this problem.  In fact, when I point out the factual nature of her inaccuracies she responds that we must “agree to disagree.”

 

As the old saying goes, people, and in this case a reporter, have a right to their opinions but not to their facts.  We live in an age in which “alternative facts” have become a way of life.  This is bad enough when it comes from politicians but it is particularly troubling when it comes from newspaper reporters.

This problem with facts is most manifest in two stories.

The Geyser Road Trail

The city has an ambitious long term plan to construct a network of bike paths to serve the entire community.  The most recent expansion, funded by grants, would go through Geyser Crest all the way to the border of Ballston Spa.  The grant and much of the work to implement it occurred during the term of then Mayor Yepsen.  In her  December 26 email to me Ms. Liberatore writes:

The Geyser Road Trail. It was unanimously voted on but nothing was done to start it. Then more lawsuits were filed. And despite the city winning in the state court of appeals over the issue of eminent domain, still nothing is being done. (This might change.) Again, City Hall insiders have shown the divide delayed it.

This statement is simply wrong.  Not only was extensive work done on the trail after the vote but the work was done in the city’s Planning Department that operates under the Mayor’s office.  Mayor Yepsen was virtually in total control of the process during this time.  It is difficult to imagine how the “divide”  could have been the cause of “nothing” being done, and in fact how does Ms. Liberatore think lawsuits could have been filed if no work had been done?

In fact the Planning Staff in conjunction with a consulting firm went through a rigorous process in an attempt to find the best precise locations for the trail.  The lawsuits to which Ms Liberatore refers were initiated by landowners along the proposed route of the trail who refused to sell their land to the city and then challenged the city in court when it resorted to the use of eminent domain.  If nothing else, simple logic should have told her that the lawsuits could not have happened had “nothing [been] done to start it [the trail]”.

Ms. Liberatore is also wrong regarding the associated litigation.  She asserts that “still nothing is being done” which I assume references the current administration of Mayor Meg Kelly.  She dismisses the idea that the holdup is due to litigation because the inaction supposedly continues “despite the city winning in the state court of appeals.”  First of all she incorrectly indentifies the court that ruled on the city’s case as the New York State Court of Appeals.  This is the highest court in New York comparable to the federal Supreme Court.  In fact this suit was decided not by the Court of Appeals but by a lower court,  the Appellate Court, Third Division.  She also is wrong in believing that the city is no longer being delayed by legal impediments (her assertion that the case had been settled).  In fact the city was facing two different law suits in two different courts.  While the city has prevailed in the Appellate Court, the city is still defending itself in a separate action over eminent domain in the New York State Supreme Court in this district.

Something is being done.  The city engaged Robert Hite as its attorney to represent it before the Supreme Court of New York.  

When I pointed all of this out to Ms. Liberatore she offered that we will have to agree to disagree.  These are not matters of opinion.  Either work was done on the Geyser Trail or it was not.  Either the city’s ability to proceed with the trail is still impeded by continuing unresolved litigation or it is not.  

Joanne Yepsen’s Censure: Repression?

In the same December 26 email Ms. Liberatore wrote:

“Of course the ultimate repression of Yepsen was the censure, which Franck opposed but Madigan, Mathiesen and Scirocco supported, another example of the 3-2 divide.”

There is a lot to chew on in this brief sentence. 

To begin with there is the phrase “ultimate repression.”  I take from Ms. Liberatore’s use of the word  “ultimate.” that the vote to censure Ms. Yepsen is to be seen as the culmination of a campaign waged against Ms. Yepsen by Commissioners Madigan, Mathiesen, and Scirocco.  This is of course a continuation of the  narrative that  the votes and activities in city hall were driven not by differences on matters of policy but by personal enmity against the Mayor on the part of  an  alliance. 

There is no question that the conflict between Ms. Yepsen and her colleagues often took on a personal dimension.  There was no love lost between these parties.   But to reduce the differences that went on during Ms. Yepsen’s term as Mayor to simple enmity and to place the source of that enmity as all coming from people allegedly totally driven by personal animus may make good copy to sell papers but shows the shallowest understanding about what was going on in city hall.

Ms. Liberatore appears to be either oblivious or indifferent to the fact that the city’s Ethics Board, made up almost entirely of appointments made by Mayor Yepsen, unanimously voted that she had violated the city’s ethics code in soliciting business from Saratoga Hospital while the Hospital had business pending before the Council.   It could not be clearer that this activity is in violation of our city’s ethics code. Reducing (or maybe ginning up) the Council’s vote to “repression” seems disproportionate to say the least.

All of this was exacerbated by Ms. Yepsen’s further actions.  Without the required prior approval by the Council she engaged a law firm (which regularly did business with the city) to craft an opinion arguing her innocence.  Then instead of recusing herself,  Yepsen  joined Franck and Mathiesen in a vote to have the city pay her legal bills. The law firm asserted that an application to the Council to grant a zoning change did not constitute “doing business with the city.” 

If Mayor Yepsen had had the wisdom and humility to acknowledge the validity of her ethics board’s decision, apologized to the public, and stated that she had acted without any intention of violating the public’s trust, she would have largely neutralized the issue.  Any action against her would have seemed mean spirited.  Unfortunately, she did not choose this path.  She was unrepentant.

In that context, it is simply untrue (and excessive) to assert, as Ms. Liberatore does, that ” It was meant to damage her. That’s  the only reason to do [my emphasis] it (censure)  because it does nothing else but disgrace.” 

While I won’t argue the point that censure does indeed disgrace, the legislative act itself is meant to: 1) hold the mayor accountable; 2) let the public know that the City Council did not/does not approve of the mayor’s behavior; 3) re-affirm that there are consequences for breaking city law and/or violating your oath of office.

Other Errors Of Fact

Ms. Liberatore’s article contained other numerous errors. She also wrote “A fire caused $10 million worth of damage to city hall.”  The fire damage was less than half that amount. The  $10 million dollar figure she refers to is the cost of repairing city hall that includes the planned updating to the building.  Oddly she actually reported this accurately in an earlier story.

Commissioner Michele Madigan has been in correspondence with the news editor of the TU regarding two other errors  in her story.  The first was the statement that “She [Meg Kelly] gained the city Democratic Committee’s unanimous backing…”  This was not the case.  In an email to Commissioner Madigan, Ms Liberatore agreed to edit the on-line version of the story and put a correction in the print version. 

The second error is emblematic of the problems with Ms. Liberatore’s reporting.  Referencing the city’s response to issues associated with the repair work on city hall and the moving of city operations following the fire, Ms. Liberatore wrote:

“During that time, Kelly locked down communication, forbidding other city officials to answer questions from the media about the fire.  In bold letters, a news release from her office informed the media that ‘the Mayor is the point of information to the public.”

As we have a commission form of government, the office of the Mayor obviously has no authority to “lock down communications” silencing the other members of the City Council.  While I have not surveyed all the members of the Council, Commissioner Scirocco was interviewed in newspapers and on TV, and I can find nothing that would support the characterization of Kelly’s actions as denying Council members access to the media .  Given the rapid and evolving nature of dealing with the fire and the relocation of city functions, it seems eminently reasonable that to minimize confusion, the city would be best served by having a single point for information. To characterize having a single person as the source for information going out to the public about a city emergency as a “lock down” seems melodramatic at best.

This strikes at the heart of Ms. Liberatore’s reporting which is where is she getting her often incorrect information?  I fully understand and support her jealously guarding her sources.  The problem is that it appears her sources are far from reliable and there are often easily accessible ways to corroborate the facts which for whatever reason she does not pursue.  Granted, the Mayor has severely limited Ms. Liberatore’s access to her, a not unreasonable reaction to the problems in Liberatore’s previous articles.  Still, an email to the Mayor and the other members of the Council attempting to confirm whether they had been forbidden to contact the media could have easily established the truth in this instance.

Just as problematic is Ms. Liberatore’s proclivity to gin up stories to make them more dramatic.  “Lock down” is an extremely harsh phrase (sounds like a school under attack).   It definitely adds to the excitement of a story but is it even remotely accurate?  If nothing else, Ms. Liberatore is a skilled wordsmith.  She is fully aware of the power of  phrases like “lock down” or “forbidding.”

What is most interesting is how this image of the Mayor “forbidding” Council members to talk with the press conflicts with the rest of Ms. Liberatore’s story.  Her story repeats a series of shrill accusations by critics of the Mayor alleging that the Mayor is weak and intimidated by her colleagues.  So how is it that she then presents the Mayor as a Napoleonic figure imperiously commanding her fellow Council members?  Apparently Ms. Liberatore does not share the same characterization of Mayor Kelly as the “critics” regarding her being weak. After quoting Ray Watkin as saying of the Mayor “She started out wanting to do well. Evidently, someone got to her and she got frightened.” Ms. Liberatore writes “It is hard to imagine Kelly frightened.”  Yet she freely presents such attacks without requiring any kind of corroboration.  Who does Watkin think “got to the Mayor” ? What evidence does he have that this happened?

As noted in the links regarding journalistic standards in my previous blog, context is an essential element of journalism.  Ms. Liberatore is apparently fully aware that the Mayor is no weakling and yet she publishes what she knows to be mean spirited and baseless attacks.  It is not that the Mayor is without faults.  Who among us is without faults? But no objective observer would describe the Mayor as weak and vacillating. 

The Portrayal of Mayor Yepsen as Victim

Finally there is Ms. Liberatore’s City Council three to two “divide” during former Mayor Yepsen’s tenure.  When I pressed her on who the three were she admitted that the division was “fluid.”  In fact the only consistent element in the divide is that it always involves the Mayor in the minority and that it sometimes takes the form of four to one. 

The reality is that Mayor Yepsen’s tenure was in many ways problematic.  I have hitherto shied away from addressing the fundamental problems with her performance as Mayor because none of my sources would go on record.  The contrast of Mayor Yepsen’s four years as Mayor with Mayor Kelly’s first year allows me to do so now.

Mayor Yepsen had little interest when she was Mayor in the details of administration or in how to pass legislation.  She was most absorbed with the exercise of power. 

Mayor Yepsen loved public events.  For those who follow these things closely, she particularly enjoyed networking with public figures she viewed as influential.  She was obsessed with the control of information which she experienced as a kind of power.  As many of the communications from outside institutions come through the Mayor’s office this provided her with what she experienced as authority and control.  It was the source of continued friction with her colleagues.  Worse, as she was not one for details, her understanding of what her office received was not always accurate which often exacerbated the strain between her and her colleagues.

She suffered from a syndrome all too common among politicians; she continually sought to position herself to receive credit for as much as possible. 

Her greatest gift was her ability to maintain her dignity at Council meetings in the face of the conflicts she often precipitated herself. 

The result of this behavior was that she was incapable of seeing her role as a leader who works with her colleagues to seek solutions and legislative accomplishments. 

The proof of all this has been demonstrated by the success of Mayor Meg Kelly.  The length of marathon meetings much of which was devoted to Mayor Yepsen parading groups before the council and prolonged by the bitter exchanges at the table are pretty much gone.  Meetings now are run in an orderly and civil manner actually transacting the business of the city efficiently.

Issues that languished during Mayor Yepsen’s terms are being resolved.  The interminable city center parking facility and related suits appear to be settled.  She has reorganized the building department radically reducing the backlog of applications for building permits.  She is moving the Geyser bike trail extension forward.

This is one place Ms. Liberatore and I will have to agree to disagree.  Ms. Liberatore clearly views the poverty of accomplishments by Mayor Yepsen as the result of her victimization by colleagues on the council.  I do not.

In the end Ms. Liberatore’s skills and interest seem more suited to the arts reporter that she was. Watching and commenting on a production does not require the kind of digging for facts and weighing of evidence that is necessary for rigorous reporting on public policy. 

 

Correspondence

From: John Kaufmann <john.kaufmann21@gmail.com>
Sent: Monday, December 24, 2018 6:01 PM
To: Liberatore, Wendy
Subject: Article

 

Wendy:

In your article in Sunday’s paper you assert that the city officials “have been locked in a 3-2 divide on City Council for years.”   Who were the two (I assume one was Mayor Yepsen) and could you name a few of the many votes you allude to that these two lost to the other three?

JK

 

From: Liberatore, Wendy [mailto:wliberatore@timesunion.com]
Sent: Monday, December 24, 2018 8:09 PM
To: John Kaufmann
Subject: Re: Article

 

Hi John,

As you know, there has been acrimony stretching back to Val Keehn. And yes, the acrimony continued under Joanne.

And as I’m sure you also noticed, it’s a love fest on the council now.

Thanks for reading.

Wendy

From:   John Kaufmann [john.kaufmann21@gmail.com]

Sent:    Monday, December 24, 2018 8:37 PM

To:       ‘Liberatore, Wendy’

Subject:           RE: Article

Thank you for responding so quickly.  There is no question that the council has suffered from a great deal of acrimony prior to Mayor Kelly’s election.  Your story, however is far more specific.  It asserts that the council has been locked in a 3-2 divide for years and that an unidentified group “spent years repressing…Joanne Yepsen.”  My recollection is that the divisions and conflict have been fairly fluid.  So, with respect, I ask who the two people are in this minority and for examples of decisions (votes) made by the council that document your characterization.

Thanks in advance for responding.

JK

 

 

WendyFrom: “Liberatore, Wendy” <wliberatore@timesunion.com>
Date: December 26, 2018 at 10:05:46 AM EST
To: John Kaufmann <john.kaufmann21@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: Article

Hello again John,

As I’m sure you know, as no one is more plugged into Saratoga politics than you, much of the divide never came up in a formal vote and played out behind the scenes.

One other occasions, there would be unanimous support for a Yepsen initiative, but then nothing would be done to further it.

Here are examples of each:

The second state-mandated courtroom. The state recommended that it be built on the second floor, not the third. Yepsen tried to advance the state request, but Madigan, Mathiesen and Scirocco were opposed to it. Therefore, it never made it to the council table.

The Geyser Road Trail. It was unanimously voted on but nothing was done to start it. Then more lawsuits were filed. And despite the city winning in the state court of appeals over the issue of eminent domain, still nothing is being done. (This might change.) Again, City Hall insiders have shown the divide delayed it.

As you also know, Madigan and Scirocco have formed a strong bond. Number three is fluid. 

Yepsen was often supported by Franck, but not on the charter nor on inclusionary zoning. The latter never made it to the council table for a formal vote.

Of course the ultimate repression of Yepsen was the censure, which Franck opposed but Madigan, Mathiesen and Scirocco supported, another example of the 3-2 divide.

I’m curious as to why you are asking as I’m sure you know all of this.

Best,

Wendy

 

On Fri, Dec 28, 2018 at 6:23 PM John Kaufmann <kaufmann@nycap.rr.com> wrote:

Wendy:

 Thank you for responding to my email again.  As the axiom goes, “no good deed goes unpunished”, your email prompts me to write back questioning a number of statements in it.

 As I read your email and considered your decision to publish the harsh and bitter attacks on Mayor Kelly, it appears that you find credible that much of the opposition to Mayor Yepsen was rooted not in valid differences on policy but as part of an orchestrated effort both in votes and “behind the scenes” motivated primarily by animus and desire for power.  The corollary of this is that these same council members have now intimidated Mayor Kelly and placed her under their control  In that context let me ask you about your email of December 26.

  1. Court Room:

The second state-mandated courtroom. The state recommended that it be built on the second floor, not the third. Yepsen tried to advance the state request, but Madigan, Mathiesen and Scirocco were opposed to it. Therefore, it never made it to the council table.”

Your email offers that Mayor Yepsen was simply trying to carry out the wishes of the state regarding the location of a new court and that her efforts were maliciously frustrated by other members of the council.  Following your email I did some research on this.  The state court system did recommend the second floor.  My source, who was among those working with the state on this project, assured me, however,  that this was simply a recommendation and the state was not “requesting” this but simply expressing a preference.  Their main concern was to move this project forward and they were willing to work with the city on any reasonable plan.

In fact, Chris Mathiesen, who was the Public Safety Commissioner at the time, did oppose the second floor option.  The basis for his opposition was that the city had just spent considerable moneys to redo his offices.  The process of doing this had also required considerable inconvenience.  If you like I can contact him to provide you with documentation.  His opposition to locating the courts on the second floor was based on this, not anything personal regarding Mayor Yepsen.

I don’t know who your sources were but don’t you think that it is misleading not to acknowledge that there were credible reasons for opposition to placing the court rooms on the second floor and that, while the state had expressed a preference, to characterize this as a “request” might be an overstatement?

There is also the assumption in your email that by opposing the second floor the opponents effectively killed any possible progress for the project.  A reporter might ask why Mayor Yepsen did not consider working with the other council members on an alternative?

  1. The Geyser Trail

 “The Geyser Road Trail. It was unanimously voted on but nothing was done to start it. Then more lawsuits were filed. And despite the city winning in the state court of appeals over the issue of eminent domain, still nothing is being done. (This might change.) Again, City Hall insiders have shown the divide delayed it.”

You assert that following the vote by the council to proceed with the Geyser Trail that nothing was done.  The email can be read to imply that the delay allowed the property owners along the proposed trail to challenge the city’s efforts to secure the properties.

The responsibility for advancing the project was with the Planning Department which falls entirely under the Mayor’s office.  In fact, the Planning Office, working with the consulting firm should be credited for doing a great deal of good work moving the project forward following that vote.  The timing of the law suits that followed were because only after the design work was completed were the precise routes determined which indicated which properties would be affected. 

You write, “…City Hall insiders have shown the divide delayed it.”  I am at a loss as to how the other members of the Council could have impeded a process being carried out by the Mayor’s Planning Department. What did these “city hall insiders” provide you in the way of support for their assertions?

Could you offer any information you might have regarding the alleged inaction on this project as asserted in your email?  More to the point, could you indicate exactly who and how other members of the Council impeded the project?

You assert that following the ruling by the state court on eminent domain, nothing was done.  In fact,  lawsuits are still active and  Mayor Kelly is pursuing resolving them.  Do you have any information to the contrary to support your assertion?   .

You ask why I am asking about these issues.  The reason is that I was troubled by your piece.

You wrote that the council had been “locked in a three to two divide” during Mayor Yepsen’s terms.  I do not think I am unique in my reading of this.  A divide implied that there was some sort of gap between two members of the council and three other members not that the votes were in fact fluid as you admitted in your email to me.

So if in fact who voted with and against  Mayor Yepsen was fluid and not “locked in” it raises some serious issues.  Mayor Yepsen’s problems were that she found herself continuingly at odds not with a faction of the Council but with all her colleagues.  You state that the “ultimate repression” of Mayor Yepsen was the vote to censure her.  Repression is a very strong term.  I take it from the word “ultimate” that you mean that this was not a unique vote but a part of a pattern of actions meant to personally damage her.  In other words you appear to personally support the “critic’s” narrative that Mayor Yepsen was a continual victim.  The extension of this argument, and what I find really disturbing, is that you provide credibility to the narrative that the current Mayor has established comity by conceding power to these same malicious members of the City Council.  I find it deeply troubling that you would publish reckless accusations regarding this without any documented substantiation.  

You characterize as the “ultimate repression” the censure of the Mayor adopted by the city council by three members.  The determination that Mayor Yepsen had violated the city ethics code was unanimously made by the city ethics board, the members of which Mayor Yepsen had appointed.  I accept the fact that the supporters of her censure may well have taken some satisfaction in voting to do so, but that does not take away from the fact that she violated the city’s code by soliciting business from an institution with business before the council.  Most people would consider this a very serious violation.  While John Franck may have argued that the decision to censure represented “overreach” I do not think any thoughtful person would characterize the action as arbitrary or capricious or as “repression”.

I look forward to your response

 

From:   Wendy Liberatore [wliberatore3@gmail.com]

Sent:    Friday, December 28, 2018 9:00 PM

To:       John Kaufmann

Subject:           Re: Issues

 

Hi John,

The point of the article was to hear diverse voices — those who love Kelly and those who don’t. I worked hard to balance it.

It’s too bad she didn’t choose to have her own voice heard. I would be happy to talk to her.

As you know, many, like yourself, think Meg is superb. But many others, don’t.

I get the impression for any article on Meg to be acceptable to you, it would have to be a glorified portrait of perfection. No one is perfect. Every situation has gray areas.

And you are implying way too much in my statements. They are meant to be statements of fact only.

The second courtroom:

I spoke with OCA. They were very frustrated by the Saratoga situation. I will leave it at that.

The Geyser Road trial:

The litigation would have come regardless of the delays.

Yepsen’s censure:

It was meant to damage her. That’s the only reason to do because it does nothing else but disgrace.

As for emailing you things from my sources, I can’t. I’m sworn to protect them.

Best to you,

 

From:   John Kaufmann [john.kaufmann21@gmail.com]

Sent:    Saturday, December 29, 2018 2:27 PM

To:       ‘Liberatore, Wendy’

Subject:           Issues

 

Wendy:

With respect you did not respond to my questions regarding the accuracy of a number of your statements. For example:

  1. Following the vote to pursue the Geyser Trail   “… nothing was done to start it.” 
  2. “Nothing is being done (currently)”
  3. The “city insiders have shown the divide delayed it.”

 

Item #1 is  simply not true. Aside from the documentation available in the Planning Office,  simple logic says there could be no litigation over  eminent domain if the planning staff and the consulting firm had not designed the trail which indicated what properties would be impacted.

Item #2 is simply not true.  There is something being done, the city is in litigation.  Litigation with Saratoga Bottling, Pompay Family, and the Village of Ballston Spa is ongoing. 

If I am wrong on these two items could you please explain?

Item #3: Could you please offer any instances where the “divide” (who ever these people may be) were able to delay the project?

This stuff is pretty elemental.  I am grateful for your willingness to engage and look forward to your response.

 

From:   Wendy Liberatore [wliberatore3@gmail.com]

Sent:    Saturday, December 29, 2018 6:42 PM

To:       John Kaufmann

Subject:           Re: Correction

 

I think we will have to agree to disagree.

 

From: John Kaufmann <kaufmann@nycap.rr.com>
Sent: Sunday, December 30, 2018 7:16:01 PM
To: Liberatore, Wendy
Subject: FW: Draft Wendy #3

Wendy, I very much appreciate your willingness to engage.  I also acknowledge that being retired, I enjoy an advantage in that I can research issues at my leisure whereas you have a very wide reporting beat and must operate under deadlines.

Still, the issues here are matters of fact and not opinion.  They are not the kind of thing that we can agree to disagree about..

  1. The decision you attributed to the Court of Appeals was actually decided in a different court.  The decision was made by the Appellate Division, Third Department. The Court of Appeals is the highest court in New York.  So the decision was either made in the Court of Appeals or it wasn’t.  It is not a matter of where two people can disagree.
  2. There were two pending actions involving the same parties The plaintiffs sued the city over issues associated with the Eminent Domain Procedure Law (EDPL) and over the city’s application of the State Environmental Quality Review process.  These issues were decided by the Appellate Division, Third Department.  The parties are still before the New York State Supreme Court, however,  over the city’s attempt to acquire property interests necessary to accomplish the trail, under EDPL Article 4.  Supreme Court Justice Robert Chauvin had allowed this matter to be stayed pending the results from the other court.  With the resolution of the other suit, he has requested that the parties conference to try to resolve the matter which apparently should occur in the near future.  Should those negotiations fail, it will be decided by his court.  Attorney Robert Hite has been representing the city in this matter.  So in reference to your email, either the litigation has been resolved  or it is not resolved. 
  3. You asserted in your email that nothing was done following the decision by the council to proceed with the Geyser Trail.  Copious records exist in the Planning Office that document the work that was done by that office following the council decision.  In addition, there could not be an eminent domain conflict if the trail had not been designed and these properties were not situated on that trail.  So either work was done following the decision by the council or it was not.  It is not a matter where two people can disagree.

Again, I appreciate your past willingness to engage.  

\JK

From:   Liberatore, Wendy [wliberatore@timesunion.com]

Sent:    Monday, December 31, 2018 9:29 AM

To:       John Kaufmann

Subject:           Re: Draft Wendy #3

Hi again John,

I’m always happy to talk to anyone. I love readers, even those who dislike/disagree with me, because I always learn something from them.

Not everything is written down. There is a lot of going-ons at City Hall that never gets recorded. I can only rely on sources (citizens and City Hall employees who are working on the project)  to inform my thoughts on the trail. I have also seen and have copies of the Planning Dept.’s actions on the trail.

Our exchange is reminding me I need to do another story on it soon.

As for agreeing to disagree, I meant the story on Meg Kelly. I still say it was fair and that there was a 3-2 divide among the council members during Joanne Yepsen’s tenure.

Maybe we should meet face-to-face one day. I think that would make for a lively discussion. Feel free to reach out again if you like to schedule a chat over coffee in

Saratoga.

Meanwhile, feel free to criticize the article on your blog.

Happy new year,

Wendy

 

From:   John Kaufmann [kaufmann@nycap.rr.com]

Sent:    Monday, December 31, 2018 11:31 AM

To:       ‘Liberatore, Wendy’

Subject:           RE: Draft Wendy #3

 

Thank you for your charming note.

JK

 

From:   Liberatore, Wendy [wliberatore@timesunion.com]

Sent:    Monday, December 31, 2018 12:38 PM

To:       John Kaufmann

Subject:           Re: Draft Wendy #3

 

I’m sincere.

Reach out and we can meet.

Wendy