Sustainable Saratoga To Offer Repair Café: Fight waste!

You can help reduce the amount of waste ending up in landfills by bringing items in need of repair to the Repair Café organized by Sustainable Saratoga and the Saratoga Springs Public Library. The event will be held  Saturday, June 16, from 11AM until 2PM in the library’s Harry Dutcher Community Room.  Instead of throwing away that broken toaster or toy, repair coaches will be available to help repair items free of charge. Tools and materials will also be on hand.

More information is available on line at:

http://www.sustainablesaratoga.org/repaircafeblog/

 

 

County Denies Second FOIL For Ballot Images: Turner Channels Trump

Robert “Bob” Turner is a professor of political science at Skidmore College.  He was also the chair of the city’s previous Charter Review Commission.

In an era in which facts are treated with careless indifference and in which spin and hyperbole have replaced measured pronouncements, it is especially dismaying to read Professor Turner’s remarks to area newspapers. His most recent misstatements came after his second FOIL request for images of  the ballots cast in  last November’s charter vote was rejected.

In recent editions of the Gazette, the Saratogian, and the  Times Union newspapers Professor Turner makes reckless attacks on the two Saratoga County Election Commissioners. Rather than  enhancing public dialogue and providing insight into an important issue, he presents erroneous information and creates a poisonous  atmosphere that is not helpful in trying  to understand the controversy.

Professor Turner wrongly accuses the Commissioners of the Board of Elections William Fruci (Democrat) and Roger Scheira (Republican) of obstructing his FOIL request. He is quoted in the Saratogian as saying, “By refusing to follow the Court’s decision in Kosmider, the Republican and Democratic appointed Commissioners of Elections, Roger Scheira and William Fruci, are undermining the public’s confidence in the integrity of the electoral process.”  He told the Gazette, “…I’m not going to let a couple of local political appointees deny the public what’s theirs.” And “The Republican and Democratic county election commissioners can’t even bother to articulate some sort of rationale and reason that the ballots shouldn’t be open to the public.”

The problem is that neither of these men had anything to do with the denial of  Turner’s  FOIL request.A simple question to put to  Turner would be, exactly what evidence did he have that it was the Election Commissioners who thwarted him? The only document he possesses is a letter signed by the county’s FOIL officer denying his FOIL request.

After reading Professor Turner’s comments I called Bill Fruci, the Democratic Election Commissioner, whom I have known for decades and asked him about his role in this controversy.  He explained to me that he was never consulted regarding Professor Turner’s FOIL request.

This was hardly a surprise.  Decisions regarding FOIL requests are decided by an institution’s FOIL officer.  The FOIL officer is required to make a determination by testing the request against a set of legal standards of what is accessible.  My experience leads me to believe that in addition to the county’s FOIL officer, the decision was probably made by the County Attorney, James Dorsey.  I emphasize probably because I have no way of confirming my suspicions.  

Then there is the problem of  Turner’s operatic characterization of the controversy.

 Professor Turner asserts that the denial of his FOIL undermines “…the public’s confidence in the integrity of the electoral process.”  In a statement reminiscent of a certain President he asks, “Why not show the public the ballots?  If the election was run properly, there is nothing to hide.” 

 So Professor Turner not too subtly suggests to the readers of the newspapers that there has been some sort of conspiracy (organized by the two Elections Commissioners) to subvert the election.

 Can Professor Turner really be serious?  Remember, when he thought his Commission’s charter would prevail and that the City Council was trying to somehow block the process, he was quoted in the area papers lauding the virtues of the Board of Elections.

 In fact, I for one do not believe that our democracy is put into jeopardy by Professor Turner’s recent FOIL denial.  The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division Third Judicial Department has recently ruled that digital ballots are FOILable.  The decision is under appeal.  I am cautiously optimistic that the New York State Court of Appeals will support the lower court decision and resolve the matter.  

 The denial of Professor Turner’s FOIL is hardly the threat he would have us believe.  Our democracy is threatened.  Dark money, suppression of voters, and gerrymandering are real threats that deserve our alarm not the denial of Dr. Turner’s FOIL.

I can tell you from experience that no matter what the FOIL request is, the inclination of institutions is to deny requests if the standards make that at all possible.  I  myself have had the experience of having FOIL requests  I thought were unfairly denied but lacking the money to challenge the decisions in court had to simply accept the decisions.

I actually agree with Professor Turner that the public should have access to the electronic images of the ballots he requested.  Where I strenuously part company with him is on who was responsible and where he should have directed his gratuitous criticism and on the magnitude of the impact his FOIL denial will have on our democracy.

In spite of his profession as a political scientist, Professor Turner has a history of not being burdened by the need for proof when he talks to the area papers. Professor Turner has wrongly  publically pilloried Mr. Fruci and Mr. Scheira.  He owes them an apology.

Charter Review Commission Shows Thoughtful Approach To Potential Changes

The previous charter review commission pressed a narrative that the city’s commission form of government was by its very nature riven by conflict and run by deputies who were political hacks. While the members of that commission put in many long hours  their lack of knowledge of how government actually works was reflected in their often meandering discussions .  They basically largely focused on their belief that the problems of city government were the result of the commission form of government and assumed that a city manager would resolve everything.  By their second meeting they had dismissed exploring correctable problems with the commission form.

I received a release that summarizes the work of the current commission whose membership is made up of the Commissioners and their Deputies.  I strongly urge the readers of this blog to take a few minutes to peruse the document.  It made me feel very good about the people who serve us in city hall.  The summary shows that the members of this new charter commission  have a thorough understanding of the way city hall functions.  There are thoughtful recommendations being considered that will ultimately  go to the voters about reorganizing the responsibilities of the various departments so the city can operate more efficiently.  The reader will find an amazing lack of turf conflict.  It is also impressive how civilly and professionally these people handle their differences.  I don’t know how anyone reading this release or watching the videos of their meetings cannot come away feeling a sense of pride about our city government.  Credit also needs to go to Mayor Kelly who selected the members of the committee and crafted its mission.

 The current Charter Review Commission regularly sends out releases that summarize the work of each meeting.  They meet the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays monthly at 4PM in the City Council chambers. Meeting minutes and video recordings are available on the City website.  In addition a public forum will be held Wednesday, May 30th at 6PM in the City Council Room. City residents can also give feedback at each of the commission’s meetings or through the city website  Link


MEDIA ANNOUNCEMENT: 2018 Charter Review Commission Update

Date: May 25, 2018

Saratoga Springs, NY — The 2018 Charter Review Commission (“CRC”) held its sixth meeting on Wednesday May 24th at 4pm in the City Council Room. During this meeting the CRC reviewed the sections and the proposed edits discussed during the meeting held on Saturday May 19th for the benefit of those CRC members who were unable to attend, and also completed its initial review of the remainder of the current Charter.

As a reminder, the CRC was formed on March 6, 2018 by Mayor Meg Kelly with the goal of finding efficiencies and organizational improvements to better serve the people who live and work in the City of Saratoga Springs. The Commission’s proposal will be voted on by City residents via a referendum in the November 2018 election.

Below are some of the topics that have been discussed in the past two meetings, along with a recap of some of the discussion points. No discussion noted below is final. The CRC intends to review and vote on each section later in the process, along with a comprehensive review by outside legal counsel.

• Within the Finance section, the CRC again spoke about moving the Capital Budget from the Mayor’s section to Finance, so that the City Council member elected to create and manage the City’s Operating Budget also manages the Capital Budget. The Capital Budget inherently influences the Operating Budget and therefore the tax rate paid by City residents. Other potential Finance edits discussed included more explicit language around the Finance Commissioner’s role as Internal Auditor and adjustments to the budgeting calendar, as to allow Finance more time to finalize and present a Comprehensive Budget to the City Council and residents.

• When discussing the Public Works portion of the Charter, the CRC referred back to earlier conversations regarding Recreation, Parks, and Open Space all potentially moving to Public Works, given this department’s stated responsibility over City land and facilities. There was also some discussion around facility management responsibilities between Public Works and Public Safety, and if this separation, and any possible changes, should be discussed further within the Charter.

• Regarding the Public Safety section, the most material issue remains the potential merger of Code Administration in Public Safety with Building and Zoning Enforcement with the Mayor’s Department. There seems to be consensus among the CRC that combining the group, either in full or partially, makes sense and would increase efficiencies internally and for residents, though the most appropriate structure has yet to be determined.

• Within Accounts the topic that received the most attention was the requirement that the Commissioner of Accounts shall be a licensed assessor. The CRC discussed what the City’s options might be according to State law.

 

• In the Legal Matters portion, the CRC largely agreed that the City Attorney should continue to be appointed by the Mayor, but that that appointment should require the advice and consent of the City Council. Per the Charter, the City Attorney serves as general legal advisor to the City and all its departments, not just the Mayor, so many felt the other City Council members should have the ability to vote on the appointment. Also discussed during this section was the potential creation of an administrative unit which would include other groups that support departments across City Hall, though no consensus was reached on the structure or which groups would potentially be included.

• Other topics discussed from the remainder of the existing Charter include the necessity for an inside and outside tax district, limitations imposed on the City’s bonding limit, and the term and number of County Supervisors explicitly laid out in the Charter, among others.

• Outside of the Charter review itself, the CRC approved the brief questionnaire that will be given to attendees of the May 30th public forum, and the CRC Chairman updated the broader commission on matters such as retaining outside council and subcommittee meetings with select groups and individuals.

As always, the meeting minutes and video recordings from CRC meetings are available on the City website. City residents are also invited to give feedback at future CRC meetings, the public forum to be held on Wednesday May 30th at 6pm in the City Council Room, or through the City website (http://saratoga-springs.org/2144/Charter-Commission ).

 

 

 

Saratoga Springs To Sponsor Gun Buyback Day

A city gun buyback program will take place Saturday, June 2, from 9AM to 3PM. Unwanted long guns and handguns can be brought to the Unitarian Universal Church parking lot at 624 North Broadway. Local businesses have raised money for gift cards to be given to those turning in guns.

More  information is available on the city website and the Police Department’s Face-book page.

 Here’s a link to the story in the Saratogian: 

Link to Saratogian

 

 

 

Mayor Restarts City Center Parking Facility Process Plan With Expanded Concept

Mayor Kelly has announced the establishment of a committee she is calling the Flat Rock Working Group.  With broad representation the committee is being asked to rethink not only the City Center proposed parking facility but the city owned parking lots and land adjacent to the City Center.  She is quoted in the Saratogian as follows:

“For years the city has continued plans to develop the lots behind City Hall. In partnership with the City Center, we are refining the vision for the city-owned parking lots,” said Kelly. “Our vision includes the creation of an exciting community destination, a rooftop venue, parking for the City Center and city events, improved pedestrian connections from High Rock to Maple Avenue, inclusion of the Greenbelt Trail with new opportunities for green space, an extension of the High Rock Park market, conference meeting space and hopefully the revival of the Flat Rock spring.”

The Saratogian and the Gazette indicated that the membership of the working group is a work in progress but identifies the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, the Special Assessment District (downtown), the City Center Authority, Downtown Business Association, Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau.  The Mayor also plans to appoint neighbors and other “stake holders” including the Pedinottis who own the Mouzon House.

The Pedinottis have an on-going suit against the city regarding the City Center’s plans for a parking facility in this area that has been in the courts for at least two years.  They told the Gazette, “If we can come to an agreement that the garage won’t be the same footprint, and that they’ll take our needs and the city’s needs into consideration, we’d be delighted to settle,” she said. “There are a lot of really good things being considered in this new plan, and we’re hopeful it’s something everyone in the city will agree with.”

The city council authorized the Mayor to contract with the L.A. Group for up to $19,500.00 to provide technical support to the group.

Link to Saratogian Article

Link to Gazette Article

The Saratogian and the Hedge Fund Alden Capital

Recently, staff from the Denver Post traveled to New York City to protest in front of the skyscraper owned by hedge fund Alden Capital.  The editor of the Post had resigned over on-going Draconian staff layoffs. 

 In the years since Alden Capital acquired the Post in 2010 the paper had gone from a staff of over 200 to less than 100.  The newspaper has been ordered to layoff another 30 employees by July.

 The company’s records are not available because it is privately owned but a study done by a professor of journalism has estimated that they have been generating a 17% profit.

 So what is the local link?  This hedge fund also owns the Saratogian.  The Saratogian has also been decimated.  While Joseph Phelan does a very good job on the stories he covers, unfortunately the paper no longer has the resources to properly cover the city and the county.

 Here is a link to the New York Times story.  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/08/business/media/denver-post-alden-protest.html