Mayor Yepsen Responds To Recusal Controversy

An open letter to the Citizens of Saratoga Springs: April 19, 2016

When the call came in from Saratoga TODAY reporter Arthur Gonick last Thursday, I was at a dinner in Troy with other regional Mayors accepting an award on behalf of Saratoga Springs as one of the 22 cities across the nation who ended veterans’ homelessness by the end of 2015.  After the dinner, I listened to the message and was stunned to hear that a “story” that I was the subject of was going to run in the paper the following day and they had gone to press without even giving me a chance for a comment, response or clarification of the facts. In my dozen years of public service, I’ve never not had a chance to respond to an article relating to me or, at the very least, asked for a comment prior to publication. 

After reading the April 15th article published by Saratoga TODAY entitled “Recusal Or Refusal”, I feel compelled to not only defend my actions but to provide important details that were missing from the reporter’s story and to correct the record.

As the Mayor of Saratoga Springs, I take offense to any suggestion that I conveniently avoided taking a public stand on the Saratoga Hospital rezoning and expansion project. If I didn’t want to deal with controversial issues and think I could make a positive impact, I would not have run and won twice for Mayor. As it relates to the recent article in Saratoga TODAY, that appears to be the author’s suggestion. However, that is not what happened.

Since Saratoga TODAY did not provide me opportunity to respond to the tone of their article before the story was printed they didn’t know that I have had a long-standing relationship with the hospital both as a fundraiser and community leader. They also didn’t understand the full extent of precautionary steps I took and the advice I sought with the City’s Ethics Review Board in order to avoid any potential conflict of interest I may have had with the hospital’s rezoning proposal. Instead Saratoga TODAY chose to first write the story, complete with editorial connotations, and then offer me a chance to respond.

Therefore, as a follow-up to the “facts” presented by the April 15th article, I’m more than eager to explain my actions and reasons for excusing myself from any discussion involving the hospital’s plans. Additionally, I have a few thoughts of my own as it relates to the unseemly politics of this whole issue.

First, it’s important for all to understand, I’m the proud co-owner of a small independent business that specializes in working with non-profit organizations in developing effective strategies for the management of fundraising activities. The Mayor’s position is considered “part time” and pays $14,500 per year and therefore additional income is essential. Over the years, I have established a successful business relationship with many organizations in New York, including Saratoga Hospital. I have been hired twice over the years by the hospital foundation to conduct board trainings and prior to that served as a hospital foundation volunteer board member for nine years. But, for all my years in public service I have never had one instance where I have had to recuse myself from a public vote because of a potential conflict of interest.

Ethics is a high priority for me. In my first term as Mayor, I re-establish and reconstituted the important role of the City’s Ethics Review Board with several new appointments and updates to the requirements set forth in the City’s Ethics Code. This term, I arranged a thorough ethics-training program presented by Mark Schachner, an expert legal advisor, for our land use board members.  I have high ethical standards for myself and expect that of others.  That is why as soon as I realized the potential conflict of interest between my consulting work with the hospital and the city business; I sought advice from our City Ethics Board to ask for an official opinion.

Once the hospital realized the potential conflict, they also took action simultaneously.  They wrote me an email indicating they would discontinue conversations about our possible working relationship while I am serving as Mayor. Having already met with the Ethics Board that same day, I immediately shared this follow-up information I received with them to consider in their deliberation.

After performing a thorough review of records, and after considering the legal implications involved, the Ethics Board issued a determination and opinion, advising me that in my official City role I should recuse myself from any discussion or consideration related to the hospital’s rezoning and expansion project.

Contrary to the impression that may have been created by the Saratoga TODAY article, I have been more than transparent and cooperative in sharing all information and correspondence related to the preliminary discussions with the hospital, all information regarding my discussions with the city’s Ethics Board and my ultimate decision to recuse from all discussions related the hospital’s rezoning plan. Aside from my private business relationship, past and present, my duty as a public official was to seek advice from the appropriate City Board and act accordingly.  And, I did just that.

To suggest that the hospital’s decision not to engage my services at this time, by itself, somehow erased the potential conflict and instead caused me an opportunity to participate in the City Council’s discussions involving the hospital’s rezoning request is simply wrong and in direct conflict with advice and recommendation I received from the city’s Ethics Board. The Ethics Review Board determination made it clear, that given that the earlier discussions that already occurred with the hospital, regardless of their final email to me discontinuing those conversations, recusal was advised.

Here the facts are clear. In accordance with the timeline of events as described by Saratoga TODAY article, it wasn’t until late in the year 2015 that the public fully understood that the hospital was acting on a project rezoning proposal that had been inserted into the draft Comprehensive Plan update. As government officials, we all need to find more effective means to educate ourselves and the public on the numerous projects being presented that may affect their neighborhoods.

Throughout this whole process, I’ve held myself to a high ethical standard. In this particular instance, given my business affiliation past and present with Saratoga Hospital, I was compelled to step aside on any vote pertaining to their proposed project and rezoning. I take great pride of serving as Mayor of this city and I did not take the recommendation by the Ethics Board or my personal decision to recuse lightly.

Sadly, the failures in this process are that the Saratoga TODAY article appeared and drew harsh conclusions with no chance for me to directly respond or correct the accusations. The deliberate actions taken by fellow City Council members in running to the press with documents they believed to be incriminating, calls into question their true motivations.

There are always lessons learned and room for improvements in every process.  In my role as Mayor, I will continue to conduct City business professionally in a manor that best represents the overall interest of our City, its residents and taxpayers.

– Joanne D. Yepsen

Mayor, Saratoga Springs

 

 

45 thoughts on “Mayor Yepsen Responds To Recusal Controversy”

  1. Well, she does a nice job of fluffing herself up and trying to deflect the REAL issues anyway (nice touch there about being at a homeless convention accepting an award for her work on that issue here – especially given the article in the Saratogian the other day concerning 2 West Ave) . But she disputes NOTHING here – none of the things brought forth. I’ll stand on everything I said previously. She blatantly violated an ethics law not only once, but twice (and the second AFTER she was told about it).

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  2. Perhaps if the Mayor was in her MANOR (does the Mayor have a Manor?), she would be able to conduct herself in an ethical and professional MANNER. Was she looking for a job WRITING or RIGHTING grants for the Hospital?

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  3. What discussions is the Mayor referring to with the hospital? All I saw were emails from her to the Hospital asking for work over and over again. I see that she initiated contact and they simply responded as they would to any potential applicant, that they don’t have the necessary information (writing samples requested twice) to begin thinking about discussions or hiring her for work. The recusal is not the issue. The issue is the unethical behavior of asking for work while the Hospital needed her vote. So all the Mayor or any elected official needs to do now if they want an out on a big controversial issue is write an email and ask for a job and hope you get a response so you can say “oops, golly gee, I have a conflict.” Please. Do you think everyone in this city is bubblegum stupid Mayor.

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  4. SaraResident: I know I feel sorry for her only making that $14k salary while she is forced to live in a ramshackle, tar paper shack…… On Fifth Avenue.

    Saratoga Voter: BINGO!!!

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  5. It should also be noted here that Art Gonick DID post a disclaimer on the original article saying he notified the mayor BEFORE this was released and would give her the chance in the next issue to respond (which is what this is).

    Folks? Without a doubt, she needs to be called on the carpet for this.

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    1. Hi John, et.al….
      John, just wanted to provide you the online link to the above; which we printed in hard form Thursday night (see page 8) and published online Friday morning:

      http://saratogatodaynewspaper.com/index.php/news/news/item/5269-an-open-letter-to-the-citizens-of-saratoga-springs-april-19-2016

      Thanks for participating, everyone, regardless of what you conclude. We will have something to hopefully further the discussion on 4.29, but since we made the mayor wait a week (one of the things i will discuss is why, with our particular print vehicle, offering her a full page in our paper was the fairest option we could provide), we shall abide by the same standard and wait a week ourselves. This issue isn’t going away.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Yepsin failed to address the documented timeline of events which led to her recusal….why? Is it true that one member of this ethics board is the city attorney’s wife?? Why won’t this board address yepsin’s violation of section 13-3?? Will our city council take action against yepsin and her violation of the public trust?? Will she vacate her office voluntarily?? Has the AG been notified??

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  7. Any reputable provider of professional services (attorney, architect, accountant, consultant, etc.) is acutely aware of, and continuously on the look out, for conflicts of interest. This concept is deeply embedded in all the various sectors of professional services, and lies at the heart of professional ethics. Ms Yepsen constantly claims that she owns a consulting firm and is a consultant. As such, the conflict of interest and the appearace of impropriety in approaching a potential client and proposing services while said potential client is seeking her approval at council meetings is obvious. Furthermore, she herself had been discussing ethical issues, the ethics code, etc., at council meetings while she was approaching the hospital. So it appears to me that at least one, and possibly all, of the following must be true:
    1. She isn’t actually a consultant
    2. She has no personal or professional integrity or ethics
    3. She is not very smart
    I suspect all 3 may be true but am not yet certain nor willing to conclude as such.

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  8. The hospital, Matt jones, and com. Madigan(matts new best friend) are super pissed they lost to the neighborhood so this is their punishment. There is a story here about corruption and deceipt but it surrounds the comp plan committee, the hospital, and bonacio. The real question people should be asking is…
    How was sonny allowed to, (as a member of the comp plan com.) direct the extension of the comp plan map boundary to include these 3 parcels that the hospital wanted to build on without disclosing the fact that he was the builder? They all knew what was happening and cleverly kept the info and the change to the map a secret from the neighborhood and the public.
    Having the mayor actively look for work from her existing client base, while disclosing everything to the ethics board is not only not illegal but not really even interesting. Now, if she had voted without disclosure, I would be upset. But having her not vote because she sided with caution makes me think this is nothing but a nasty political attack and punishment from a lawyer who got outlawyered and his best friend com. Madigan who think it’s the role of a com of finance to act as the city’s investigator. Btw, I’d really like to know why com. Madigan was so committed to throwing the concerns of the hospital neighbors down the toilet and helping Matt jones and this horrible expansion. There is something we don’t know here.

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    1. ABM – your claims make no sense. First, it’s a ‘dead issue’ now. Comm. Mathiesen wasn’t going to vote for it as it was anyway, and with two recusals they couldn’t even HAVE a vote anyway. Sonny Bonacio and Matt Jones had nothing to do with it. And even then, it’s doesn’t take away the facts here: the timeline of events and evidence to back it CONCLUSIVELY shows she actively sought employment from the hospital, which is a straight out violation of 13.3 section I of the ethics code (and her claim to have not understood this BECAUSE she has been an elected official for 11 years now is quite laughable truthfully).

      Comm. Madigan and the others aren’t ‘covering up’ anything here. But they ARE exposing the facts as they have them. They should be commended for that, not targeted with wild accusations.

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  9. It seems obvious that Yepsen is the major villainess in this sorry tale. I’m having trouble, though, with those who seem to be portraying the hospital as the innocent victim of extortion by the Mayor. Are we to believe that Ms. Raimo did not immediately consult with hospital CEO Carbone as soon as Yepsen approached them about employment? Are we to believe that suddenly in January the Hospital found the courage to turn down Joanne’s overture no matter the consequences? What I see is a mutual embrace and dance between the two each cynically seeing where it would take them.

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    1. Straight Shooter: ‘Consults’ usually don’t happen instantly. My guess is the BOARD – not just Carbone – made that decision, and things waited until a board meeting was held. Think about this logically: WHY would the hospital stop this if there was a ‘win’ here for them by hiring the mayor? It just doesn’t make any sense for them to do so (ethics aside). Either way, the timeline does NOT agree with the mayor’s rebuttal (in fact, she really didn’t ‘rebut’ anything. It was like ‘look at poor me!’ and playing the sympathy card. It did NOTHING to refute what really happened. It’s a play straight out of the McTygue playbook actually, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has lived in this city for a while.

      In fact, note the irony in how she claims she is being treated unfairly by the other council members – the same council members of which her ‘gang’ has brought bogus lawsuits against – as well as the city itself (and yes, I realize she was ‘named’ there too, but that is strictly a formality, and just about everyone realizes that). It’s like the little boy (girl?) who cried ‘wolf’, isn’t it?

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  10. abm (alsobillmctygue) said: Having the mayor actively look for work from her existing client base, while disclosing everything to the ethics board is not only not illegal but not really even interesting. Now, if she had voted without disclosure, I would be upset.

    if the hospital was an existing client base, why wouldn’t the mayor have recused herself from the discussions on the matter, back in august when they originally submitted their plans? you say this like it actually helps her argument…it actually makes it worse, because now what you’re claiming is that she had this already existing business partnership with them. she then sat in on meetings and lead discussions on the matter, then recused herself several months later, because it was then an ethics violation, when they declared they didn’t want to do business with her, which was something she didn’t even disclose to the ethics committee…you can yack about motives of other people all you want…my guess is she has tried to screw people over and shouldn’t expect other people to now, turn a blind eye from her on ethics violations…sorry billy..

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  11. ABM said… “How was sonny allowed to, (as a member of the comp plan com.) direct the extension of the comp plan map boundary to include these 3 parcels that the hospital wanted to build on without disclosing the fact that he was the builder? They all knew what was happening and cleverly kept the info and the change to the map a secret from the neighborhood and the public.”

    sounds like a completely irrelevant point to me, in terms of defending a decision by the mayor to solicit a business with a pending application, in front of her.

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    1. Mark Scirocco. It’s as ‘fluffy’ as her response was. Or it makes no sense at all. It’s intended to try and deflect the blame. It holds no water at all. The evidence is crystal clear in this one.

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  12. This whole mess is a disgrace nothing will happen….what’s next? the trials and tribulations of nepotism or can’t I give a developer a million dollar gift without telling anybody and I mean anybody only to have it investigated by the comptroller and AG and nobody still knows anything!!!!!!…..and now this?

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  13. well, the only difference is one person welcomed an investigation and said you wouldn’t find anything…the other person doesn’t seem to want anyone looking into the matter…so, it should probably be telling you something about mctyue’s claims, if an independent investigative body isn’t confirming their accusations…lying seems to be a pattern with them…

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  14. What findings?? Do you have documentation to that effect?? and by the way nobody in dpw welcomed the Comptroller and AG.the investigation is on going,maybe instead of giving me explanations give them a call tell them what you think of nepotism!

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  15. Merlin: Don’t scoff. Mark isn’t blowing smoke here. You can either FOIL for the info or go to city hall and ask to see it for yourself like I have (hence my comment of not being able to post attachments on here). I have yet to see even ONE of the accusations made by the McTygue gang hold any water (like the water connection fees as an example). It’s how they ‘play’ – wild accusations so people will ‘assume’ they are guilty to try to gain office. We’ve seen it now for what – 30 years from them?

    This time however, the tide has turned. This issue is NOT going away, even if I have to get a lawyer myself. This one is blatantly obvious, and the mayor should have her feet held in the fire over it.

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    1. wow, what a zinger with the comeback on nepotism…yawn…
      again, dpw welcomed the investigation because they knew it was politically motivated…”Scirocco said Monday his office was cooperating “150 percent” with the comptroller’s office. He said DiNapoli was conducting a forensic audit of fees dating back to 1999.” also, “Scirocco said that assertion wasn’t true. “We didn’t do anything wrong, so I’m not that concerned about it,” he said of the probe. “We did point out a few things to the auditors. Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.”
      http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/State-probes-water-hookup-5943982.php

      now put this in contrast with the mayor’s office’s response to this! so go back to making stuff up, it is what merlin’s do…

      and yes, there is documentation….john has seen it, i emailed to him..
      bill and stan granted several waivers that did not fit the criteria,,,,one is the “congress park plaza” building, famous for its encroachment into the park…they claimed there was an existing tap there saving mr. b some cash…problem was..it wasn’t there..i certainly do not need your justification in any matter…and everyone is still in the weeds as to why stan gave the waivers, when he shouldn’t have…

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      1. Convention Hall had no water mmmm,Roohans apartment building with twelve apts had no water??…..isn’t this were Congress plaza sits today well seems to me there were two taps there which qualifies for the waiver!

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      2. Kind of funny,nobody in the public knew your father granted the waivers,it only came a year later when city engineer Tim Whales told Bononciao he wasn’t entitled to it….(which by the way he wasn’t)…then stan borden who you claim granted some waivers unbeknownest to your father launched a lawsuit against your father right?

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      3. Mark:
        So you just admitted to issuing/removing documents from cityhall. People get fired for that. There is a process by which the public has access to documents from city hall.

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    2. well if you know how it went, then please feel free to provide the details…kinda funny why you wouldn’t just say it, as opposed to making a nondescript unverifiable claim…well done…

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  16. Baloney stan and bill have no such power kinda like you…..the lawsuit with belmonte and Ethier??? how’d it come out???….evading will be coming to an end…..1999 nothing to show BLAAAAAAAAAA,yes I know it went wonder why you won’t tell us….another loss but was really a win LOL!…..

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    1. http://trappedinhistory.blogspot.com

      yeah, i have nothing to show, lol…good call..yup, they didn’t have that power, yet somehow they managed to get it done…here are three projects…and there is more…bye.

      there is no lawsuit…that makes you 0 for 2…and making stuff up again…shocker!!

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  17. “Convention Hall had no water mmmm,Roohans apartment building with twelve apts had no water??…..isn’t this were Congress plaza sits today well seems to me there were two taps there which qualifies for the waiver!”

    no, they changed the size of the existing tap, which isn’t a reason to waive anything…nice try…comptroller agreed…can’t change a 2 inch tap to a six inch tap and waive the fee,,, but they did..try again…

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  18. “Kind of funny,nobody in the public knew your father granted the waivers,it only came a year later when city engineer Tim Whales told Bononciao he wasn’t entitled to it….(which by the way he wasn’t)…then stan borden who you claim granted some waivers unbeknownest to your father launched a lawsuit against your father right?”

    really,you should work on your reading comprehension, because i have already posted a newspaper article debunking the bogus claim the waiver came from skip and came from stan instead..it is black and white…do you have an article claiming otherwise? no, i din’t think so…so here i am posting news paper articles, and actual documents, you seem to be making claims and unable to back them up…now that is another shock…including some launched lawsuit…where did this happen? there should be some court papers showing stan filed his lawsuit. i am sure you’ll post it…right???

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  19. Merlin: Mark is correct. There are more to see. Perhaps when you get done eating some crow you should FOIL for the info too (it will save you the embarrassment having to go to Skip’s office to see them for yourself 😉 )

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    1. No thanks Dave don’t need to foil anything,the narative of your friend mark is to mis-direct,I know that I just hope for there sake they aren’t lying to the Comptroller or the AG.,I’m done with this…good luck!

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  20. Mark:
    So you just admitted to issuing/removing documents from cityhall. People get fired for that. There is a process by which the public has access to documents from city hall.

    incorrect…i never said i removed anything from city hall…in fact the reason that dave said he saw them, was he issued a foil request to see them and he was allowed to see them..

    but i like the focus is on something like that, and not the actual fact that someone else did plenty of waiving of fees..

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    1. Mark said:
      and yes, there is documentation….john has seen it, i emailed to him..

      You admit you emailed a photograph of a confidential internal city document to John. You posted it on your bolg with a link on this blog. All now permanently preserved in the blogosphere.

      You posted a photograph of an internal email from Tim Wales to the commissioner with no CC. This is an internal document and confidential, and, if I understand correctly is the subject of a comptroller’s as well as the attorney general’s office on going investigation.

      You are way too close to this and conflicted. You will get into trouble for a breach of confidentiality by a city employee, and your father will not be able to protect you anymore.

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      1. And if these came from already FOIL’ed documents, they become public record.

        That said, people really should FOIL for this stuff. It’s AMAZING how much you will find out when you do (like on this issue). Try it sometime – it only costs you the price of a postage stamp!

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      2. admitting that i emailed it to john, does not equate to me illegally removing documents from city hall, they were foiled by someone else and became public…please stop your libel unless you have actual proof…

        again, a foil requested in person and the documents were made available, because intradepartmental memos that deal with taxpayer information is not covered by confidentiality..”(g) are inter-agency or intra-agency communications, except to the extent that such materials
        consist of:
        i. statistical or factual tabulations or data;
        ii. instructions to staff that affect the public;
        iii. fi nal agency policy or determinations; or
        iv. external audits, including but not limited to audits performed by the comptroller and the federal government;
        “https://www.dos.ny.gov/coog/Right_to_know.html

        but it is strangely curious that this is what is sticking in your craw…not the raping of the tax payer….nor the questionable recusal of the mayor…must be working hard to dodge those bullets…

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  21. Only the foiled document comes into the public domain as issued by the foil officer. The foiled version did not have the hand written notes on it. The version mark posted does have hand written notes on it.

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    1. LOL! Both are me! I couldn’t remember my password for this, and it offered a FB account login, so I used that instead on this computer, and my original on my other computer. Hopefully that clarifies it!

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