A Very Troubling Exchange With Michele Madigan

I am saddened by this exchange with Michele Madigan.  We have had our differences over the years but she was always open and direct in a refreshing way.  I invite the readers of this blog to make their own judgments regarding the emails that follow.  In my experience, when a politician refuses to seriously engage on an issue and insists that you wait for the vote, it does not bode well.  One can only hope that in this case things will be different.

I would also draw your attention to our disagreement about the role of Mark Schachner who handles the legal matters regarding land-use law.

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To: Michele Madigan

From:John Kaufmann

Date: August 14, 2015

As you know, Saratoga National Golf Course petitioned the city to amend the zoning laws in order to expand their facilities in the city’s greenbelt.  The language was drafted by Michael Toohey.  Three members of the Council, of which you were one,  passed this language on to the Planning Board for their advisement.

When the Planning Board met in a workshop to review the text amendment, they dismissed most of it as inconsistent with zoning law.

You had previously expressed reservations about the language in Toohey’s amendment.   Apparently you decided to meet with Mark Schachner, the lawyer the city uses for land use issues, and asked him to come up with language that could withstand challenge to accomplish what in effect Toohey ,  the SNGC attorney, could not.  At the public expense, Mr. Schachner then crafted new language.

Over the thoughtful objections of the Planning Board chairman, the Planning Board adopted Mr. Schachner’s language.  They made three changes in the document.  They increased the number of stand-alone residences from five to six.  They filled in the spaces indicating the amount of land to be set aside for permanent easement to be 50%.  They amended the comprehensive plan to allow for a golf resort.

You have made previous statements that your support for changing the zoning was contingent on two things.

  1.  that all but the twenty-five acres on which the construction will take place, must be put into a permanent easement.  This would include the golf course.
  2. that the comprehensive plan not be changed

In light of the fact that the document approved by the Planning Board fails to comply with your two requirements, do you expect to vote for or against its adoption.

The citizens of Saratoga Springs have a reasonable right to know whether you plan to hold to your promises prior to the night of the meeting.  It is important to note that Schachner’s work was critical in coming up with language to effectively save the text amendment.  Since he did this at your request, you are now the architect of saving the text amendment and in effect, making it possible for Saratoga National Golf Course to get the change in the city zoning to achieve their goals.  I look forward to your answers.

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To: John Kaufmann

From: Michele Madigan

Date: August 16, 2015

John, I think you are confused about the process here.

Firstly, your continual mischaracterizations of Mark Schachner’s work on this issue shows a lack of understanding of how our City government works. The Council asked the Planning Board for an advisory opinion; Mark Schachner is the City’s retained legal expert on such matters. It’a only natural that the Planning Board discuss these issues with our attorney versus relying on the legal work of an attorney who represents the interests of a private landowner who may prefer broad and sweeping changes to our Comprehensive Plan and zoning ordinances. Why you would suggest that the Planning Board and the Council should rely on Mike Toohey’s work on and not on our own legal counsel is beyond me.

Secondly, I am one of five voting members of our City Council. The City and County Planning Boards do not tell me what I can or cannot vote on, they merely provide advisory opinions. No matter has been brought forward for a vote by the Council, nor will there be on one (sic) Tuesday Aug 18. When an amendment is brought forward for my consideration I will vote accordingly, and my vote will be in line with what I have said – to you, to the public, to anyone – on this matter. I really do not know how much clearer I can be with you. You keep asking the same questions – and asking them prematurely – and I keep giving you the same answer.

Thank you,

Commissioner Michele Madigan (and by the way I spell my first name with only 1L.  I do like to see my name spelled correctly.  Thanks again.)

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To: MIchele Madigan

From: John Kaufmann

Date: August 16, 2015

Michele-

I am very grateful, and the readers of my blog should appreciate, your willingness to engage on not only this issue but all the issues that the Council must address.  One of the things I have always admired about you is your openness and accessibility.  You have a history of being one the most open and direct people on the Council.  It is for this reason that I am utterly confused that on the issue of this text amendment, which has now been formally sent to the Council from the Planning Board, that you are unwilling to discuss the problems with it, in particular, the issue of whether what they are recommending for an easement is sufficient to meet your requirements.  I also do not understand your unwillingness to share your thoughts about whether the Comprehensive Plan should be amended for this.  For someone who has always been forthright in discussing your concerns and in educating the community about many public policy issues, I am just lost to understand your reticence to share your analysis on this stuff.

We seem to be talking by each other when it comes to Mark Schachner.  I have no problem with Mark Schachner offering an opinion to members of the Council or the Planning Board on the legality of what Mark Toohey has put forward for amending the city zoning law.  My difficulty is that after Mark Schachner accurately exposed the poverty of Toohey’s language for amending the zoning code, he rewrote it so that it would achieve what Saratoga National Golf Course was seeking in order to make it more legally defensible (I still question whether  what he produced is not spot zoning).  I do not think that the taxpayers of this city should be paying our attorney to rework Toohey’s botched language.  I think the point is fairly obvious.  I am a little surprised that you would think that I want you to take Michael Toohey’s advice about anything.

As for misspelling your name, you have every right to take me to task for it.  I owe you a glass of the wine of your choice as a mea culpa for being so sloppy.

JK

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On the evening of August 16 Michele texted me to indicate that she was satisfied with her response and that we were talking around each other so there would be no further exchange on this.

One thought on “A Very Troubling Exchange With Michele Madigan”

  1. Unless I missed a previous post, you said …Apparently you decided to meet with Mark Schachner, the lawyer the city uses for land use issues, and asked him to come up with language that could withstand challenge to accomplish what in effect Toohey , the SNGC attorney, could not. At the public expense, Mr. Schachner then crafted new language.

    She then replied….why would you suggest that the Planning Board and the Council on Mike Toohey’s work and not on our own legal counsel is beyond me.

    If Toohey’s language left the request in question, why would the citys lawyer help him and the Saratoga Golf course by making the language more palatable to further it in the process. I am just an ordinary citizen and native Saratogian ( I say that just to show I’ve been around a long time!)

    Perhaps Commissioner Madigan doesn’t want to show her hand before the vote and by discussion on a blog, that is what she would be doing.
    In a less public forum, she might be willing to be more frank. When you are a public official, however, working for the people of the city as a whole, we the people expect you will BEFORE voting one way or the other to tell us how you arrived at that vote. We deserve that.

    Like

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