Saratoga County Board Of Supervisors Violated State Law In Their Hiring Of Michael Prezioso as Director of Mental Health

In July of 2014 the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors violated the New York Mental Hygiene Law (MHL) when it appointed Michael Prezioso as the mental health director. The statutory authority to hire Mr. Prezioso rested with the Saratoga County Community Services Board (CSB), not the Supervisors. The governing law, at MHL §41.09, plainly requires the CSB, a quasi-independent board, have the sole authority to hire and fire the director. Unfortunately, over the last decade, in contrast to the surrounding counties, our county government has usurped the responsibilities of the Community Services Board to the detriment of the program. The CSB has apparently atrophied over this time. The legislative reason for mandating the quasi-independence of the CSB is in all likelihood to avoid what happened here which is that patronage trumped merit. The community services board must be comprised of professionals related to the mental health field. It is much easier for a one party system like ours to handle patronage directly rather than go through the cumbersome process of having to strong arm a board of professionals to do its bidding.

A quick Google search by county for the Community Services Boards of Schoharie, Greene, Washington, Warren, Fulton, and Montgomery Counties will bring up sophisticated web sites with profiles of the board members along with their work in overseeing their local mental health department. A search for our own Community Service Board brings up no web site and almost nothing about the Board. There is, for example no list of its members even on the Saratoga County web site. The only reference to the CSB on the county web site informs the searcher when they meet

There is good reason to believe that Dr. Lehr, Mr. Prezioso’s predecessor was also improperly selected by the County Board of Supervisors. In 2010 and 2011 New York State Senator Roy McDonald introduced legislation that would have amended the State law to allow the county to hire and fire the director. What would have prompted Senator McDonald to introduce such legislation? It seems fairly clear that our county government was fully aware of the statutory obstacle to their patronage-driven design and wanted it fixed so as to conform practices and results in a manner suggesting apparent harmony with the law. They failed to take into account that [they] the County would hire someone with a history of sexual harassment, as determined by the State Office of Mental Health, whose inept management of the department would create a major public controversy that would expose their violation of relevant law.

The Statute

First, here is a brief explanation of the New York State Statute covering the hiring of county mental health directors written by Jerry Luhn. Mr. Luhn, who is now retired, was for many years an attorney with the New York State Commission on Quality Care and Advocacy For Persons With Disabilities.

“It seems that what County officials are saying conflicts with what the governing statute requires.  It’s not a suggestion, but a mandated function that reflects the legislature’s expectation that the Board shall do the hiring and firing.  (Also, the statute clearly provides that the Director need not be a resident of the area served (i.e., the county in this case.  One note seemed to suggest that residence was a consideration in the hiring process.)  The County administrators can’t co-op this CSB function, undermining the statutory scheme, for any reason — nor, for that matter, may the CSB simply opt out of one of its vital functions.  If any of its members are not willing to act as directed by law, then they shouldn’t be on the Board, in my view.  So we end up with this.”

Here is the relevant section of the statute

NY Mental Hygiene Law §41.09

(a) Charter governments may provide for appointment and removal of directors in a manner authorized by such governments. In all other local governments, the board shall appoint and remove the director.
Salaries and allowable expenses shall be set by the appointing authority. (b) Each director shall be a psychiatrist or other professional person who meets standards set by the commissioner for the position. If the director is not a physician, he shall not have the power to conduct examinations authorized to be conducted by an examining physician or by a director of community services pursuant to this chapter but he shall designate an examining physician who shall be empowered to conduct such examinations on behalf of such director. A director need not reside in the area to be served. The director shall be a full-time employee except in cases where the commissioner has expressly waived the requirement….

What Happened

The Saratoga County Personnel Committee which was chaired by Anita Daily (Supervisor From Clifton Park) and which included Saratoga Springs Supervisor Matt Veitch requested that the Community Services Board vet the candidates and send a selected list to the committee for its determination. The CSB then sent four names to Daily. They were in order of preference and Prezioso was number four out of four.

The Personnel Committee then selected Prezioso.  Prezioso had been on the Republican Committee for the town of Ballston and had been active in Republican Party politics.  It then made its recommendation to the full Board of Supervisors at its July 15, 2014 meeting.  The language clearly appears to reveal that the county rather than the CSB made the hiring determination.

The following is an article from the Gazette regarding the appointment along with the actual resolution passed by the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors.

The Daily Gazette
Thursday, July 3, 2014
Prezioso chosen for Saratoga County mental health post
BALLSTON SPA — Dr. Michael Prezioso is being recommended to become Saratoga County’s new director of mental health.

The Board of Supervisors’ Personnel Committee on Wednesday recommended him to replace Hans Lehr, who retired in March.

Prezioso, a psychologist, is currently director of inpatient services at the Capital District Psychiatric Center in Albany, where he has worked for 17 years. He was selected from among four applicants recommended by the county’s Community Services Board, said county Personnel Committee Chairwoman Anita M. Daly, R-Clifton Park.

Assuming the Personnel Committee recommendation is approved by the Board of Supervisors later this month, Prezioso would start work Sept. 12. The position has a starting annual salary of $95,338.

In the position, Prezioso will lead the county’s mental health department. The department operates an outpatient treatment clinic, a day-treatment program, and an alcoholism-treatment program, all based at a building on South Broadway in Saratoga Springs. The department averages 1,700 to 2,000 active cases at any given time.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————-

The Resolution Passed By the County Board of Supervisors

Adopted July 15, 2014

APPOINTING MICHAEL S. PREZIOSO, Ph.D. AS DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES

WHEREAS, by reason of the retirement of Hans H. Lehr a vacancy has been created in the position of Director of

Community Mental Health Services; and

WHEREAS, this Board of Supervisors is authorized to appoint the Director of Community Mental Health

Services pursuant to Mental Hygiene Law §41.09; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that Michael S. Prezioso, Ph.D., of the Town of Ballston, New York, be and he hereby is appointed

to the position of Director of Community Mental Health Services at Salary Grade No. 21, STEP 1; and be it further

RESOLVED, that this Resolution shall take effect September 12, 2014.

BUDGET IMPACT: NONE

The Contradictions

Spenser Hellwig, the county administrator, Peter Martin and Matt Veitch have all stated that the Community Services Board was responsible for the hiring and firing of the director.

From the Saratogian Newspaper June 16 edition: “County Administrator Spencer Hellwig said Prezioso’s continued employment with the county rests with the 12-member Community Services Board, composed of professionals in the mental health field. The board hires and fires the county mental health director.”

From an email sent by Matt Veitch on June 22, 2015 to a constituent: “You are correct that the Community Services Board has the statutory authority to hire and fire the Director as well as oversee other aspects of Mental Health Services.  They did work in partnership with County Administration for recommendations when he was hired, but they made the ultimate decision as to the Director’s appointment.”

Dr. Frank Archangello is the chairman of the Saratoga County Community Services Board. I called him today and had a very troubling conversation with him. I will be blogging on that conversation tomorrow.

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