Thinking Outside The Mayor’s Box

Saratoga Springs city government has had a box at the flat track for as long as anyone can remember. It seems that it is called the “Mayor’s Box.”

At the last city council meeting, Commissioner Michelle Madigan raised concerns about Mayor Joanne Yepsen paying $4,000.00 out of her campaign funds (half the $8,000.00 cost) to secure the box for this racing season.

The full discussion can be viewed at Video Of Discussion Of Box

Move the timer to 34:52 for the discussion.

According to the discussion, a few years ago NYRA, which had traditionally provided the box for free to the city, changed its policy and required the city to pay for the box. Apparently both the governor and the senate gave up their respective boxes rather than pay the fee. At the time Scott Johnson indicated that he did not think the tax payers should foot the bill. He asked the other members of the council if they would contribute. During that first year, John Frank and Michelle Madigan contributed to the cost of the box as well as Johnson. Last year, Mayor Yepsen queried the council regarding the bill and only Michelle Madigan contributed in addition to the Mayor who paid the bulk of it.

This year, when Mayor Yepsen received the bill she put the initial payment down using her campaign moneys but did not advise the other members of the council. At the meeting Madigan strenuously complained about not being notified and, after conceding it was legal, argued it was inappropriate to use campaign funds.

The mayor then asserted that she acted to save the box. She noted that no one had contacted her and in turn, Madigan, Mathiesen, and Scirocco replied that she should have advised them.

In the most interesting part of the discussion, Tony Izzo, suggested that the council use public money for the box. He noted that there was already a precedent of non-profit agencies paying the $221.00 daily cost to use for fund raisers. He suggested that the city might recover much of the cost of the box in this way and save the use of it for special days like the Travers Race.

There was a consensus among the council members that it was important for the city not to lose the use of the box. There also seemed to be a consensus not to use public money. In the end, they agreed to try to come up with a plan outside of the council meeting.

Rethinking The Box From The Outside?

First I should note that while the flat track is great for the city, I personally have no interest in racing. Having said that, I believe that it is quite important for the city to keep its box.

Many years ago I ran a non-profit agency here in Saratoga Springs. Every August a variety of agencies that funded my organization would choose that month to visit my agency. Among my visitors was the head of Federal Region II. This gentleman never went North of New York City as far as I could tell so it was quite a coup to be able to spend a day with him. Ray Watkin, who was then mayor, helped me out by making his box available to my agency for the event.

The reality is that getting things you want is often a matter of getting quality time with the people who make the decisions that are important to you and to building relations with them. In that context, the box is an extremely valuable a fossetr our city.

Starting A Dialogue

I would like to start a dialogue with the people who follow this blog about ideas the city might use to handle managing the box.

I believe that the city should, as suggested by Tony Izzo, use public funds to pay NYRA for the box.

The city council could then establish a committee to manage the box made up of appointments by each commissioner and the mayor.

The committee would keep minutes of its meetings which would be posted on the city’s web site.

Records would be kept of who arranged with the committee for use of the box and they would also be expected to provide the committee with a list of who used the box.

In the case of non-profits or other outside organizations, they would be expected to pay the cost of the box for the day.

I think that the members of the city council should not have to pay to use the box. Whatever any of us may think of the individuals who serve on our council, these people put in long hours for a mere $14,000.00 (They do get health insurance which is a valuable benefit and they can receive benefits under the state retirement system). I do not think that it is unreasonable to allow them this perk. They used to get the perk anyway. Now it would cost the city some money to provide it.

I am not concerned about the “political” use of the box as long as it is not excessive. Let’s remember that for decades, the box was used as the mayor and the council saw fit. I am quite confident, seeing fit included inviting key members of their respective parties.

The tricky part of this is who gets the top days like the Travers. I hope that people reading this blog might have suggestions that the council would find helpful.
I think the committee which is expected to manage the box could submit their selection methodology to the council for formal approval.

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