[From May 1, 2016 Saratogian]
To the editor,
After reading an open letter to the community from Mayor Yepsen regarding her recusal from the Saratoga Hospital’s Morgan Street project zoning application, there are a number of points raised that I feel should be addressed.
Much to the credit of Mayor Yepsen and the other four members of the City Council and as she stated in her letter, the Council did amend the Ethics Code (Local Law No. 2,2015). And yes, the mayor does appoint members to the Ethics Committee. The Ethics code states in paragraph 13-3 I ‘Officers and/or employees (of the City)shall not engage in, solicit, negotiate for or promise to accept work for an outside employer or business who does business with the City which creates an implied conflict with or impairs the proper discharge of his (or her) official duties or results in personal gain’.
In March of this year and much to my surprise, I was presented with information which showed that Mayor Yepsen had been soliciting, negotiating for and promising to accept work for the Saratoga Hospital Foundation during the time that Saratoga Hospital was seeking zoning changes for a new project. Plans for the Hospital’s professional building on Morgan Street had been actively presented to the City at least since last August. Mayor Yepsen began negotiating for a contract as a private consultant for the Hospital Foundation beginning in October. Since October, the Mayor and the Foundation had a number of discussions about her private contract until Thursday, January 14 when the Foundation declared that they were no longer interested in pursuing that relationship.
In my opinion, Mayor Yepsen has violated Ethics Code paragraph 13-3 I. The Mayor should have understood the explicit guidance provided by the recently passed Ethics Code update She should have refrained from seeking a private contract from a business entity that was actively engaged with the City for an action that she knew would ultimately require her vote. At the very least, she should have publicly declared her potential business relationship when the Hospital presented their proposal to the Council and when public hearings and discussions occurred on December 1, December 15, and January 5. It was not until the January 19 Council meeting, five days after the Hospital Foundation informed the Mayor that THEY would not continue to negotiate with the Mayor because doing so could be seen as a conflict of interest, that the Mayor (and Commissioner Franck) announced the recusal.
The Mayor decided to recuse only after the reason for doing so no longer existed. This brings up the possible allegation that the last minute recusal could have been in retribution for the Hospital Foundation’s refusal to grant her private contract. The two recusals have brought the Hospital’s zoning application to a screeching halt. Had she been up-front about her Hospital Foundation negotiations, all of this could have been avoided. This is truly a lesson in the importance of transparency when in public office. Hopefully this will serve as a valuable learning experience for all involved.
Chris Mathiesen Saratoga Springs Commissioner of Public Safety