A Sad Commentary On Mayor Yepsen. Silence Is Not Always Golden

To Mayor Yepsen’s credit, her office’s response to FOIL requests is a vast improvement over that  of the previous Mayor, Scott Johnson. Under the Johnson administration  requests to access  records were regularly  denied and ignored.    In contrast, the current City Attorney, Vince DeLeonardis, and Trish Bush, his executive assistant, have been very cooperative.

In her campaigns Mayor Yepsen strongly promoted the need for accessibility and transparency.  She is to be commended for carrying out these campaign promises in the way her office allows access to documents.

It is in this context that her failure to respond to a simple question is deeply disappointing.

In a comment published on the Unified Development Ordinance website, the Chamber of Commerce alleged that during the crafting of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, they met with the “Mayor’s office” and reached an agreement to amend the proposed language of the Comprehensive Plan.  The basic change was to replace words such as “require” or “implement” which call for concrete action with squishier words such as “consider” and “encourage”. The full list of agreed upon changes is below but just as one example they changed  “establish” guidelines for stream buffers to “review” guidelines for stream buffers.   The Chamber used the euphemism “more flexible” to describe the effect of the changes.

It is clear that the Chamber is claiming that they have the Mayor’s support in their campaign to weaken the city’s land use ordinances during the UDO process.

There was supposed to be an advisory committee set up to work with the consultants on the rewriting of the city’s ordinances.  This has not happened and the only group that the consultants have met with has been the Chamber of Commerce.  The Mayor is the project manager for the Unified Development Ordinance.  The only oversight currently appears to be through the Mayor’s office.

I emailed the Mayor on December 27 with the text of the Chamber’s statement and asked her if the characterization made by the Chamber was accurate.  Her first response appeared to miss the point of my question because she simply said that she had not met with the Chamber regarding the UDO.  When I wrote back the same day asking her to read my email (the emails are all included below) more carefully and respond, I received no response.  I then emailed her again on January 6 and then again on January 11 but to date, she has not responded.

If the Chamber’s description of working with the Mayor to make the language of the Comprehensive Plan “more flexible” is accurate it raises some disturbing issues that could undermine the public’s confidence in the fairness of the UDO process. It would be helpful  to know the following:

  1. Who in the Mayor’s office met with the Chamber and agreed to the changes in the Comprehensive Plan’s wording?
  2. How did this language find its way into the Comprehensive Plan and what role did the Mayor’s office play in getting it in?  Was it inserted by the consultants?  Was it inserted while the Comprehensive Plan Committee was still meeting or was it inserted after the Committee collapsed and sent the unfinished plan to the City Council?
  3. Most importantly, it would be helpful if the Mayor explained her reasoning for each of the edits her office agreed to.

I still hope that she will realize how important it is to respond to these emails and to inform the public about what transpired.

 

Emails

——————————————————————————————————————————————

From:    John Kaufmann

Sent:     Monday, January 11, 2016 3:36 PM

To:          ‘Joanne Yepsen’

Subject:               Comprehensive Plan and Meeting With Chamber of Commerce

I know how busy you are being Mayor along with your own firm and your family.  This may have contributed to the delay in answering my query.  Still, this is my fourth attempt to get an answer to a question that should not require significant research.  I am including below the previous emails.  According to the Chamber of Commerce memo, you met with them during the drafting of the Comprehensive Plan  and agreed to revise some sensitive language advocated by them in the document (I have included their memo below).  Most of the changes had to do with the greenbelt.  Is their description below accurate?

————————————————————————–

From:    John Kaufmann

Sent:     Wednesday, January 06, 2016 6:12 PM

To:          ‘Joanne Yepsen’

Subject:               Follow up

Joanne:

This is a follow up to my earlier email.  I would be very appreciative if you could find the time to address my question.  Is the description of a meeting with the Chamber (see below) an accurate characterization of the events they describe?

Much thanks for responding.

JK

————————————————————————–

From: John Kaufmann

Sent: Wednesday, December 30, 2015 11:25 PM

To: ‘Joanne Yepsen’

Subject: RE: UDO And Chamber of Commerce

The comment from the Chamber was in reference to the Comprehensive Plan.  They allege that they met with you during the crafting of the Comprehensive Plan and that you agreed with wording they wanted.  If you will review their comments you will see the wording that they say you agreed to.  Did you meet with them during the crafting of the Comprehensive Plan and agree with the wording that they were advocating  (see below)?

From: Joanne Yepsen [mailto:joanne.yepsen@saratoga-springs.org]

Sent: Wednesday, December 30, 2015 9:31 PM

To: John Kaufmann

Subject: Re: UDO And Chamber of Commerce

Hi John. My staff has not met with the Chamber regarding the UDO. Our consultant Behan Planning and my staff have recently met to regarding outreach and plan how to best engage the public in coming months. I do believe Behan is also starting to meet with major stakeholders such as the Chamber, Sustainable Saratoga, Saratoga PLAN… They will be using this input for the diagnostic review.

Joanne

————————————————————————–

On Dec 27, 2015, at 5:32 PM, “John Kaufmann” <j> wrote:

2. Through the Mayor’s office, there was one effort made to find common ground that resulted in the use of some specific words in various recommended actions that we believe specifically indicates a clear preference to create flexibility including:

a. “Update” the open space plan not implement.

b. “Review and update” the City’s Historic Preservation plan not implement.

c. Adopt “reasonable” guidelines that “encourage” restoration not require.

d. “Review” guidelines for stream buffers not establish.

e. “Encourage” the development of residential and commercial buildings that exceed minimum state level energy efficiency not require or establish or implement.

f. Ensure an adequate size and width for public right of ways “wherever feasible.”

g. “Consider” establishing a Generic Environmental Impact Statement to address citywide traffic impacts not establish or implement.

h. “Evaluate” form-based zoning not establish or implement.

i. “Consider” establishing dedicated funds for affordable housing not create.

Thank you for your prompt response.

 

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6 thoughts on “A Sad Commentary On Mayor Yepsen. Silence Is Not Always Golden”

  1. John, FYI on UDO. 1) Steakeholders are reduced to two, the Chamber and Sustainable Saratoga. Behan will only meet with them. 2) No advisory committee. 3) One day seminar open to public for issues.

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