Saratoga Today published a front page story this week in which documents released by Saratoga Hospital raise serious questions about Mayor Joanne Yepsen’s recusals regarding their PUD applications.
Saratoga Hospital has been frustrated in their attempt to secure a Planned Unit Development approval for an office complex they wish to build near their main buildings. As a result of a legal challenge by the neighbors who abut their proposed project, a vote of at least four members of the City Council is required to secure the PUD. Mayor Joanne Yepsen and Commissioner John Franck have recused themselves claiming conflicts of interest.
According to the documents, Mayor Yepsen introduced Saratoga Hospital’s application for a PUD for their proposed offices on her agenda at the August 18 meeting of the City Council. In October Mayor Yepsen began corresponding and meeting with representatives of the hospital to explore how her consulting firm might provide services for the hospital. In January the hospital wrote to her that they were no longer interested in pursuing contracting her services citing the potential conflict of interest that such an arrangement might entail. This was communicated to her in correspondence on January 14 and January 15 of this year.
At the January 19 meeting of the City Council (only four days later) when the Council was to take up action on the PUD, Mayor Yepsen announced that she had been in talks with the hospital about doing work for them and was therefore recusing herself from any participation in any discussions or votes related to the matter. For some unknown reason, she did not reveal that Saratoga Hospital had formally notified her that they would not be pursuing business with her while she was mayor.
On April 12th, Commissioner Skip Scirocco submitted the documents to the City’s Ethics Board requesting an inquiry. The Ethics Board went into executive session and no further information is available on their deliberations.
It is very troubling that with Saratoga Hospital’s proposal before the Council that Mayor Yepsen would enter into negotiations with the hospital. It is puzzling that she would then recuse herself from the PUD when there was no longer any possibility of a contract.
I sent the Mayor a note advising her about this story and offered to print her response verbatim on my blog. I am publishing her response below.
It is very much worth exploring Saratoga Hospital’s actions in this matter.
According to Saratoga Today:
“This correspondence has been verified by an official from Saratoga Hospital, who stated, ‘…we are aware that these documents might someday reach the media.’ The packet was originally sent by Amy V. Raimo, Vice President for Community Engagement and Executive Director of The Saratoga Hospital on March 1, in a response to a January 30 request for information letter from Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan to President and CEO of Saratoga Hospital, Angelo Calbone.”
As someone who has been heavily involved in seeking documents from a variety of institutions I found Saratoga Hospital’s role in this story of great interest.
Saratoga Hospital is a private not-for-profit institution that is not subject to the open meetings law and therefore not subject to Freedom of Information requests. My experience with institutions like Saratoga Hospital is that they jealously control information. Their release of this information, especially in light of its highly political and damaging character is extremely unusual.
I am also struck by the documents that they released. I have included the documents in this post. Readers will note that there are documents that cite Joane Yepsen’s apparent failure to provide a writing sample as part of what the hospital required in order to contract with her in spite of repeated requests. The release of this information which seems to be unrelated to the recusal issues strikes me as unusual.
It is also worth noting that Commissioner Michele Madigan is cited as having made the request for the documents. Commissioner Skip Scirocco is cited as having submitted them to the Ethics Board. The story does not explain how Mr. Scirocco was brought into this matter.
It will be interesting to see how all of this plays out. Attorney Matthew Jones has spoken twice before the Council at hearings about changing the City’s Comprehensive Plan to preclude the hospital PUD. Mr. Jones has repeatedly expressed frustration over the inability of the hospital to pursue their PUD in light of the lack of the necessary quorum to decide the matter. He has repeated that the hospital simply wants a vote on the matter and that once there is a vote that the hospital will accept the decision.
Should Mayor Yepsen decide not to recuse herself then there would be the quorum that Mr. Jones and the hospital have been seeking. The problem is that if Commissioner Mathiesen continues his opposition to the PUD, although there will be a quorum, the hospital will lack the four votes they need for adoption. If the hospital and Mr. Jones are true to their word, the PUD will finally be dead.
There is also the irony that members of the Council may recues themselves, according to the city’s code of ethics, if they feel they cannot be impartial. I would say that whatever the merits of Mayor Yepsen’s behavior in all of this, it would be perfectly understandable if she admitted to sufficient anger toward the hospital that it was impossible to be impartial.
From: Joanne Yepsen [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Sunday, April 17, 2016 12:16 PM
Subject: Re: Heads Up
I am planning a full comprehensive response to the “story” you cite and will send you a copy. The article lacked an honest review of all the facts. If I had had the chance to respond or even make a statement prior to going to press, — the story had already been printed at the time I was first contacted by the paper late Thursday afternoon — (I will forward you the email first received from Arthur), the public would have had the full story on both the ethics process and the rezoning request.