For months I repeatedly emailed Mayor Yepsen regarding a number of issues and during this time I either received no reply or the reply I received did not address my question.
With this in mind I decided to make a last try by meeting with Mayor Yepsen. I emailed her the following:
I am writing to request a meeting with yourself, Tony Izzo, and Vince DeLeonardis. The subjects are related to requests for information that I have requested but not received.
These involve Saratoga National Golf Course and the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Thank you for responding at your earliest convenience.
I pointedly left out of the proposed agenda the issue of the hospital and her recusal in an attempt to make the idea of the meeting less threatening.
On May 3rd I received the following email from her:
Hi John. I’ll ask Vince to give you a call or email to set that up. Thanks.
On that same day, I received the following email from Trish Bush, executive assistant to Mr. De Leonardis (City Attorney).
Mr. Kaufmann, I have been asked to invite you to come to City Hall on Monday May 9th at 3:30 PM to discuss the items in the email you sent to the Mayor on May 2nd. Please let me know if this time is convenient for you. Thank you, Trish Bush Executive Assistant City Attorney’s Office City of Saratoga Springs (518) 587-3550 x2516
So on May 9th, I went to city hall for the meeting. It turned out that the Mayor was driving to Kentucky that day to pick up her son from college and did not attend the meeting.
I met with Vince DeLeonardis (City Attorney), Tony Izzo (Assistant City Attorney), Joe Ogden (Deputy Mayor). I was accompanied by my friend Jerry Luhn who is an attorney with decades of experience working as counsel for several state agencies.
I wrote briefly about the meeting in an earlier blog. I described the meeting as cordial and thoughtful. I specifically left out the substance of the meeting as I hoped that by doing so, it would provide the Mayor with the opportunity to appear to act on the issues pro-actively and not appear as having responded due to hectoring.
I sent to the participants and the Mayor this follow-up summary:
From: John Kaufmann
Sent: Tuesday, May 10, 2016 4:20 PM
To: Vincent DeLeonardis; ‘Tony Izzo’; ‘email@example.com’
Cc: ‘Joanne Yepsen’; ‘jerry luhn’; ‘jerry luhn’
Subject: Meeting Summary
I want to thank you all for being so generous with your time and for the courtesy you showed
Jerry Luhn and me. The following is a summary of what I believe transpired:
- Ex Parte Communication between public board members and applicants having business before them. Tony acknowledged that the training session by Mark Schachner and the materials by the New York Department of State Committee on Open Government would indicate that the nature of what constitutes an ex parte communication in this context is considerably broader than a constrained understanding of the term to merely the “merits” of an application. On that premise, it was his sense that the Ethics Board would be willing to revisit this issue, drawing from the definition expressed in their recent opinion, to better articulate the meaning of ex parte. He saw no reason why a discussion of this issue should not be carried out in an open meeting of the Board and agreed that I could be notified of the meeting at which this matter would be taken up.
- Conflict of Interest. Tony indicated that he had had a conversation with Mark Schachner regarding his statements at the ethics training, specifically, that a contract between an applicant and a member of a land use board would require a recusal of the board member and that the disqualification period would exist for an additional twenty-four months subsequent to the termination of the contract. Tony said that it was his understanding, taken from that conversation, that Mr. Schachner now believes he misspoke on this issue. Tony assured me that he would get me, in writing, what Mr. Schachner had told him.
- SNGC and Special Events. It was agreed that the City would request from SNGC a written explanation as to how they are enforcing the site plan requirement that SNGC limit special events which exceed the designated parking of SNGC.
- SNGC and the Nature Trail. The City anticipates receiving a report from Saratoga PLAN regarding the adherence of SNGC to the implementation of the West Nature Trail as required by the site plan. It is anticipated that PLAN will be submitting this document to the City by the end of May. The City will advise me when the PLAN document is received, and make it available to me.
- ZBA, Seating Plan, and Open Meetings. We discussed the importance of making every effort to create and project an atmosphere of impartiality in the way that the ZBA structures it’s meetings. We discussed at some length Mr. Schachner’s observation that having applicants sit at the table with the ZBA undermines the standard of impartiality the Board should seek to project. We discussed how, in the past, applicants addressed the ZBA from the gallery and that when documents submitted by the applicant needed to be reviewed, that all interested parties were invited to the table to review these documents. We also discussed the likelihood that, as I suggest, the Board decision on present structure design of the meetings did not take place in an open and regular meeting of the ZBA. There appeared to be a consensus that, if this were the case, that fact would constitute a violation of the Open Meetings Law. Joe Ogden agreed to discuss with the Mayor how she might play a role in encouraging the ZBA to adopt a set of procedures that project openness and impartiality, and to have the discussion of the issue take place at a session open to the public. He indicated a willingness to advise me of the results of his conversation with the Mayor.
- Lake Lonely and the apparent algae bloom. We discussed that it appears there may be a very serious problem with the water quality of Lake Lonely as reflected in the aerial photographs of the bloom at its Northeastern quadrant. Joe Ogden agreed to explore with the Mayor the option of writing to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation asking for their help in determining the scope of the problem and ways the city might address the issue it turned out to be a threat to the health of the lake.
- Positive Stories About Actions The City Is Taking. We discussed the benefit to our municipality of getting out more news about the City’s important, proactive efforts being made to improve the quality of life of our community. I offered to use my blog to share these activities with the broader community.
Shortly after I received an email back from Mayor Yepsen :
From: Joanne Yepsen [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] Sent: Wednesday, May 11, 2016 12:09 PM To: John Kaufmann Cc: Vincent DeLeonardis; Tony Izzo; <email@example.com>; jerry luhn; jerry luhn Subject: Re: Meeting Summary
Thanks for the summary John. I’m glad you and Jerry found the meeting helpful. I would like to follow up with you and my staff especially on the last two items.
We have a tremendous amount progressing forward in open space, complete streets, sustainability efforts and affordable housing issues. Much to share!
I then responded with:
From: John Kaufmann [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Thursday, May 12, 2016 6:49 AM
To: ‘Joanne Yepsen’
Cc: ‘Vincent DeLeonardis’; ‘Tony Izzo’; ‘<email@example.com>’; ‘jerry luhn’; ‘jerry luhn’
Subject: RE: Meeting Summary
Thank you for your note. I would hope that item #5 would be of particular concern to you. You have placed the need for transparency and open government as a priority for your administration. Item #5 is particularly disturbing both in terms of the continued message of a lack of sensitivity regarding inclusion and respect for the public conveyed through the ZBA’s seating plan but particularly by the apparent violation of the open meetings law in terms of the way the ZBA determined the new policy. I know it would be very disturbing to many in this community were these issues to go unaddressed by your administration. Adherence to the principle of the open meetings law would seem to be the bedrock of the kind of healthy government that seems increasingly rare these days. It is my hope that you will show the leadership so badly needed in working to find a resolution for this matter. Given the fact that Mr. Moore was reappointed by you, he should be cooperative.
For those of you without the patience to read through these emails, I was basically promised that they would finally respond to my requests for information. In at least two cases they were to do so before the end of May. It is now June and it has been approximately a month since the meeting. Tony Izzo, to his credit, sent me an email confirming that he had spoken to Mark Schachner and that Mr. Schachner admitted to misspeaking regarding the need for land use board members to recuse themselves when they had a contractual relationship with an applicant. The sad reality of our current ethics code is that this behavior would not be a violation..
As regards all the other issues, I have heard nothing. I think, dear readers, I have made a yeoman’s effort on behalf of you all to get answers out of Mayor Yepsen’s office and sadly at this point it is reasonable to assume that further efforts to get information on these issues from that office are simply pointless.