A Blogger’s Kafkaesque Quest For Information From The Mayor’s Office

Way back on September 18, 2015, I began my correspondence with Mayor Yepsen on the apparent violations of the city’s agreements with Saratoga National Golf Course.  As brief background, there were two issues.  First, the agreement with the city stipulated that SNGC was to have no more than three “special events” each year. The definition of a special event was one in which the event exceeded their regular parking facilities.  Second, SNGC was required to construct two nature trails for the use of the public.  In the case of the trails, I wrote to the Mayor that the trail to Lake Lonely appeared to be properly maintained while the West Nature Trail by any reasonable definition did not exist.

Eventually I received a letter dated October 9, 2015, from her deputy, Joseph Ogden.  In it he made the following statements: “…Mayor Yepsen has, in response to your concerns, instructed the city’s zoning and building inspector, Stephen Shaw, to immediately (my emphasis added) send a letter to SNGC reminding them of the conditions outlined in the special use permit as well as to ask that they inform the city as to how they comply to these conditions (my emphasis  added).”

He also stated that “With regard to the nature trail, Saratoga PLAN holds a conservation easement which requires Saratoga National to maintain the trails in question and reads: ‘hiking trail and related facilities shall be maintained by grantor in a manner that is satisfactory to their continued  use by the public as a hiking trail.’  In response to your concerns, Mayor Yepsen has directed our city planner, Kate Maynard, to set up a time to visit the trail with PLAN and evaluate its condition so we can assess whether or not we believe it meets the conditions of the easement.” (My emphasis added).

A more naïve person might have expected that in short order the City would have received correspondence from Saratoga National Golf Course and that Kate Maynard would have inspected the trails that Saratoga National Golf Course was supposed to have constructed.

In the ensuing five months (six months from the first inquiry) I have repeatedly sent correspondence to Mayor Yepsen asking for copies of whatever SNGC provided regarding their procedures for complying with the “special event limit” and with a report on Kate Maynard’s inspection of the West Trail.

Most recently, I also inquired about how Saratoga National Golf Course is complying with its commitment to monitor the water quality in Lake Lonely.  I will be blogging about this in the future but it appears that Lake Lonely is being badly polluted and it is reasonable to believe that SNGC may be a major contributor to this problem.

To date, I have been unable to wrest from the Mayor’s office any of this information.

Below are the most recent exchanges between the Mayor and myself regarding my ongoing attempts to secure this information.

In my opinion the Mayor confuses writing gracious notes in response to inquiries like mine with transparency.  After repeatedly indicating for five months that she will provide me with the information (following regular email prods), she directs me to seek the information from Saratoga National Golf Course and from PLAN.

Let’s remember that back in October, the Mayor’s deputy said the Mayor’s office was committed to securing this information themselves.   I can assure the readers of this blog that the idea that I will get any relevant information from SNGC by contacting them is tantamount to my asking President Obama if I can join him in a round of golf.  As for the fictitious West Nature Trail, is it not the city’s responsibility to determine if Saratoga National is violating their agreement?  What happened to City Planner Kate Maynard’s inspection?

If my allegations are true, Saratoga National Golf Course has routinely flaunted their agreement with the city and may be seriously polluting a very important water resource.  I have a certain sympathy for the Mayor in that Saratoga National Golf Course is an extremely powerful player in our city.  In fact, the Mayor has had at least one fundraiser at their facility.

After five months, I can only conclude that she simply is not going to provide the information.

To fully appreciate the true Kafka like quality of this quest, it is really worth taking the time to read the emails below.  The last inquiry to Mayor Yepsen was on March 10, 2016.

From:    John Kaufmann [john.kaufmann21@gmail.com]

Sent:     Friday, September 18, 2015 7:26 AM

To:          joanne.yepsen@saratoga-springs.org

Cc:          ‘Christian E. Mathiesen’; ‘Skip Sciroco’; John Franck (johnfranck@your-

cpas.com); ‘michele.madigan@saratoga-springs.org’

Subject:               Oversight

According to the original special permit issued to Saratoga National Golf Course, they agreed to limit their “special events” by which was meant, events that exceeded their regular parking to only three a year. It is apparent that based on their promotional materials on their web site and other information that they are routinely violating this commitment. In 2007 when they asked for a substantial expansion to their project they reasserted that they would keep to their original commitment of only three events.

In August I asked Kate Maynard who was responsible for insuring their compliance with their Special use Permit. She did not know and I followed up with an email/FOIL.  I received a letter dated September 17 from Vincent DeLeonardis in response to my FOIL in which he states “Please note we do not have any records regarding who is responsible for monitoring Saratoga National’s special events as defined in the Special Use Permit.”

I find this quite strange. Some weeks prior I called Geof Bourneman who was the previous head of planning. He was, in fact, the head of planning at the time of the original application.  Mr. Bourneman told me that the building inspector was responsible for enforcement of compliance with such things as Special Permit agreements. At the time, I approached Mr. Steve Shaw, who is the current building inspector. He told me that he was in fact responsible but that given his available time and the many special use permits and other such documents approved by the Planning Board, it was not possible for him to regularly monitor such things. I believe his description is quite reasonable and I have no criticism of him. I asked what I could do in light of the apparent on-going violation of this stipulation in the Saratoga National Golf Course Special Permit. He told me to send him an email with an inquiry and he would try to look into it.

So on the one hand, the previous head of planning and the current building inspector believe that there is someone responsible and yet the formal response from the city is that the “city has no records regarding who is responsible…” I hope you find this as disturbing as I do.   I find it particularly problematic that based on the response from the city attorney that there is not only no formal vehicle for enforcing a very important agreement but there does not seem to be any concern about the fact that there is none.

I am not being rhetorical when I ask, what is the purpose of a special permit if there is no document assigning responsibility for enforcement let alone an actual person to do the enforcement.

I would be grateful if you or someone you assign with the task, could address this issue by indicating what actions the city plans to take to correct this problem.


 


From:    John Kaufmann [john.kaufmann21@gmail.com]

Sent:     Sunday, October 04, 2015 8:41 PM

To:          joanne.yepsen@saratoga-springs.org

Cc:          ‘christian.mathiesen@saratoga-springs.org’; John Franck (johnfranck@your-cpas.com); ‘Skip Sciroco’; ‘michele.madigan@saratoga-springs.org’

Subject:               Saratoga National Golf Course

This is a follow-up to my email to you of September 18 regarding the apparent violations of the Special Permit granted to Saratoga National Golf Course. To date, I have not heard back from you.

As I noted in my original email, it appears that SNGC has been grossly negligent in erecting a “Nature Trail” to run along the west side of the course as required by its Special Use Permit. In most cases there is literally no trail of any kind. There is virtually no effective signage along the trail as what there is is buried in places that people seeking to use the trail cannot see them.

Just as seriously is the apparent violation of the agreement to limit large events to only three peryear. Your recent attendance at the Saratoga PLAN fundraiser should have given you the flavor for the kind of large event that the Special Permit was meant to address. There have been many other large events at SNGC. During just one week this summer SNGC hosted the St. Jude’s fundraiser along with two sold out “Travers Party” events that filled their “Blue Stone Patio” venue. SNGC told a local periodical that they hosted one hundred and twenty five weddings last year. I would refer you to the I Love NY web site http://www.iloveny.com/listings/Saratoga-National-Golf-Club or the SNGC’s own web site for an indication of their very aggressive marketing. It seems very possible that they are enjoying the spoils of large profits by violating their agreement with the city.

Property owners throughout this city routinely abide by the city’s many land use requirements as good citizens. You can understand how troubled people would be if they were to learn that a major business in this city has been allowed to violate our land use requirements with impunity.

On August 31, 2015, I formally asked the city Building Inspector to investigate this matter. I included with my request that he advise me of his findings and any actions he might take. It is now many weeks later and I have heard nothing. As you know, his office is under your authority.

As a courtesy and in keeping with your campaign commitment to make transparency the hallmark of your administration, I would be grateful if you could formally respond by indicating what actions regarding this matter you plan to take.


 

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

Sent:     Tuesday, October 06, 2015 1:13 PM

To:          John Kaufmann

Cc:          <christian.mathiesen@saratoga-springs.org>; John Franck; Skip Sciroco;<michele.madigan@saratoga-springs.org>

Subject:               Re: Saratoga National Golf Course

John, thanks very much for bringing this to our attention. My staff have been looking into all the questions and concerns and we will be back in touch soon. The City may need to tighten up or update the 1998 language and be sure everyone follows the rules. More to come… Thank you.

Joanne


 


 

 

From: “John Kaufmann” <john.kaufmann21@gmail.com>

To: “joanne yepsen” <joanne.yepsen@saratoga-springs.org>

Cc: “christian mathiesen” <christian.mathiesen@saratoga-springs.org>, “John Franck”<johnfranck@your-cpas.com>, “Skip Sciroco” <Skip_scirocco@saratoga-springs.org>,”michele madigan” <michele.madigan@saratoga-springs.org>

Sent: Tuesday, October 6, 2015 9:28:21 PM

Subject: Saratoga National Golf Course Violations

Thank you for your email. Unfortunately, your response referenced important issues but did not actually address them. I know that you pride yourself on your office’s transparency and its open door policy. I would like to avail myself of these by meeting with you at your earliest convenience to better understand what your office has done so far and what it plans to do regarding Saratoga National Golf Course’s apparent violations. I am intrigued by your reference that “The City may need to tighten up or update the 1998 language.” It would also be helpful to know you and your staff’s thinking about how to assess the “Western Trail” compliance and the kind of measures you are considering that would allow you to determine how many “special events” are held out at Saratoga National Golf Course.


 


 

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

Sent:     Thursday, October 08, 2015 5:44 PM

To:          John Kaufmann

Cc:          christian mathiesen; John Franck; Skip Sciroco; michele madigan; Joseph Odgen; Vincent DeLeonardis

Subject:               Re: Saratoga National Golf Course Violations

John, this has nothing to do with transparency, just time in the day. The staff has done a thorough job looking back at this over the past week and we will have a report back to you tomorrow that we are happy to share with more information. Thank you again for bringing this to our attention.

Joanne



 


From: John Kaufmann [mailto:john.kaufmann21@gmail.com]

Sent: Sunday, December 27, 2015 5:27 PM

To: joanne.yepsen@saratoga-springs.org

Cc: ‘John Franck’; ‘Michele Madigan’; ‘Skip Sciroco’; ‘Christian Mathiesen’

Subject: Saratoga National Golf Course And Water Quality

It is well documented that golf courses’ use of pesticides and fertilizers can pose a threat to water quality. The following is an excerpt from the Planning Board minutes of November 18, 1998, regarding the monitoring of water quality to be done by Saratoga National Golf Course. (Lynn Sipperly represented the golf course in their application process):

I am seeking to find out where the water quality monitoring records and results are. If the city has these records then I will FOIL for them. If the records are maintained by Saratoga National Golf Course, I respectfully request that you seek copies of these.   It may be that they properly monitored the water quality. It may be that the monitoring showed no threat to the watershed. I am sure you would agree with me that insuring that the water quality of Lake Lonely is protected is of great importance and that the monitoring should be open and transparent with records available to the public.

I look forward to your response.



From: John Kaufmann [mailto:john.kaufmann21@gmail.com]

Sent: Friday, January 29, 2016 1:51 PM

To: ‘Joanne Yepsen’

Cc: ‘Skip Sciroco’; ‘Michele Madigan’; ‘Christian Mathiesen’; ‘John Franck’

Subject: FW: Saratoga National Golf Course And Water Quality

As you will note, one month ago I sent an inquiry to you regarding the water quality monitoring related to Saratoga National Golf Course. To date I have not received a response. Could you please acknowledge this email?  Could you please indicate whether you plan to provide me with the information and if so when?

Thank you



From: John Kaufmann [mailto:john.kaufmann21@gmail.com]

Sent: February 4, 2016 9:01 PM

To: ‘Joanne Yepsen’

Cc: ‘Skip Sciroco’; ‘Michele Madigan’; ‘Christian Mathiesen’; ‘John Franck’

Subject: FW: Saratoga National Golf Course And Water Quality

It was nice visiting with you at the UDO event today. This is just to confirm that you will follow up on this request and get someone to follow up with Saratoga National Golf Course to determine where the records for their monitoring of water quality are maintained. If they are kept by the golf course I would be grateful if you could request from them a copy of these records and make them available to me.

The recent incidents in Flint Michigan are just another reminder of how precious our water is.

Thanks again.



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

Sent:     Friday, February 05, 2016 3:17 PM

To:          John Kaufmann

Subject:               Re: Saratoga National Golf Course And Water Quality

You got it. I’ve sent two emails requesting and will let you know what I find out. Thanks for participating yesterday.



From: John Kaufmann [mailto:john.kaufmann21@gmail.com]

Sent: Friday, February 05, 2016 3:20 PM

To: ‘Joanne Yepsen’

Subject: RE: Saratoga National Golf Course And Water Quality

And thank you for responding so promptly.



From: John Kaufmann [mailto:john.kaufmann21@gmail.com]

Sent: Feb 11, 2016, at 4:30 PM

To: ‘Joanne Yepsen’

Subject: RE: Saratoga National Golf Course And Water Quality

Any word?




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

Sent:     Tuesday, February 16, 2016 4:47 PM

To:          John Kaufmann

Subject:               Re: Saratoga National Golf Course And Water Quality

I found out a little from original approvals the city gave SNGC. Looks like the Core of Engineers and EPA were monitoring for first five years and I’ve called Saratoga National as well to see what other records they might have…

Joanne



From: John Kaufmann [mailto:john.kaufmann21@gmail.com]

Sent: Feb 20, 2016, at 4:30 PM

To: ‘Joanne Yepsen’

Subject: RE: Saratoga National Golf Course And Water Quality

Have they gotten back to you?



 

 

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

Sent:     Sunday, February 21, 2016 11:04 PM

To:          John Kaufmann

Subject:               Re: Saratoga National Golf Course And Water Quality

No not yet. Tom Newkirk is in AZ for a week. I hope to get some files from him when he returns.,,


 

 

From: “John Kaufmann” <john.kaufmann21@gmail.com>

To: “Joanne Yepsen” <joanne.yepsen@saratoga-springs.org>

Cc: “Christian Mathiesen” <christian.mathiesen@saratoga-springs.org>, “John Franck”

<johnfranck11@gmail.com>, “Skip Sciroco” <skip.scirocco@saratoga-springs.org>, “Michele Madigan” <michele.madigan@saratoga-springs.org>

Sent: Tuesday, March 8, 2016 11:25:50 AM

Subject: Saratoga National Golf Course Compliance Follow Up

This is a follow up to a number of issues that I had contacted you on as regards Saratoga National Golf Course.

  1. What SNGC has been doing in the way of water monitoring as it effects Lake Lonely
  2. What PLAN has to say about the apparent lack of a West Trail
  3. What procedures SNGC has for complying with the requirement that they limit their special events to three per year


 

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

Sent:     Tuesday, March 08, 2016 4:08 PM

To:          John Kaufmann

Cc:          Christian Mathiesen; John Franck; Skip Sciroco; Michele Madigan; Dan Cogan

Subject:               Re: Saratoga National Golf Course Compliance Follow Up

John, Saratoga National can answer #1. PLAN can answer #2.  I haven’t received any additional information since the last time I emailed you or we spoke about this topic. Code enforcement should be able to report if they have enforced event requirements at that location.

I’ve also asked our City Attorney to review #3. Thanks.

Joanne


 

From:    John Kaufmann [john.kaufmann21@gmail.com]

Sent:     Thursday, March 10, 2016 6:37 AM

To:          ‘Joanne Yepsen’

Cc:          ‘Christian Mathiesen’; ‘John Franck’; ‘Skip Sciroco’; ‘Michele Madigan’; ‘Dan Cogan’

Subject:               RE: Saratoga National Golf Course Compliance Follow Up

As regards:

#1, if you review your correspondence, you indicated that you would discuss this issue with Saratoga National Golf Course. In your most recent email you offered that Mr. Newkirk was out of town and would be back in a week. I assumed from this that you would be in contact with him on this issue when he returned. With all the coverage on water quality issues in Flint, Michigan and in Hoosick Falls,

New York, I know this is an issue that will concern you. Clearly as a private citizen I am in no position to compel Saratoga National Golf Course to answer my questions. Based on a variety of sources there is every reason to believe that Lake Lonely has very serious water quality problems. Knowing you, I can only assume that insuring that this important body of water is not in jeopardy would be high on your list of priorities.

#2, In correspondence from your office, you indicated that Kate Maynard would be meeting with PLAN to determine whether Saratoga National Golf Course had complied with the site plan review regarding the trails. Have you changed your mind and decided that she should not have a meeting to determine whether the West Trail met the city’s requirements?

#3, In your correspondence you indicated that your office would contact Saratoga National Golf Course to find out how they are implementing the limit on special events. I assume this would involve how they are determining when the parking is exceeded. I assume that when they agreed to the limit, they had some methodology for implementing it. I am happy that the city attorney will be reviewing this matter but it seems basic that to do so will involve getting the required information from Saratoga National Golf Course.

 

 

3 thoughts on “A Blogger’s Kafkaesque Quest For Information From The Mayor’s Office”

  1. I commend you for holding their feet to the fire. We need some sort of assurance that conditions in the contract or special use permit with the city are being upheld. I’d be a little hesitant holding SNGC solely accountable for the Lake Lonely mess. We all know there are storm sewers deep within the city infrastructure that make their way to that lake. As of now, it is just an accusation. I wouldn’t rely on your gut instincts on this one.

    Like

    1. It is not clear who/what is the source of the polution. The question is first, the magnitude and what the pollutants are. SNGC was supposed to monitor the water. Not clear for how long. Given that they are a golf course using fertilizer and weed killer, I am inquiring of them. I am also interested in what the storm sewer water is like going into the brook which empties into the lake.
      The mayor’s office oversee the planning department which has the resources to answer the key questions.

      Like

      1. Idiots again…the capped city dump was the cause of the pollution in Lake Lonely it flows downstream and eventually dumped into the lake. If you lived here as long as I have, you would remember a slime on top of the lake…it is a shallow lake and therefore very susceptible to the upstream sediment and toxins. it is now so much nicer than it was before…wildlife has returned that was not there.

        Liked by 1 person

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