Video and Low Drama From the Debate Over the Censuring of Mayor Yepsen

 

[JK: This is my first attempt at incorporating video in the blog and unfortunately, it is all too obvious.  The complete video of the council meeting is accessible on the city’s website.

I am republishing the Saratogian article on the meeting for context.  There are three videos.  Two are relatively brief and are the highpoints for drama at the meeting.  The other was edited with more care and represents I think the key exchanges during the evening.]


Tensions rise within City Council following ethics violation

By Travis Clark, tclark@digitalfirstmedia.com, @TravClark2 on Twitter

Posted: 07/20/16, 1:15 PM EDT | Updated: 14 hrs ago

CityHall

SARATOGA SPRINGS >> Tensions were high at the Saratoga Springs City Council regular bi-weekly meeting on Tuesday night. Following the Ethics Board’s findings that Mayor Joanne Yepsen violated the city Ethics Code, Finance Commissioner Michelle Madigan motioned for the council to accept the board’s findings, while Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco proposed a resolution to censure the mayor in response to those findings.

The Council voted unanimously, minus Mayor Yepsen who abstained, to accept the Ethics Board’s findings. They also voted to pass the resolution, which both censures the mayor and calls for an investigation into the findings from the state Attorney General’s Public Integrity Bureau. Prior to the vote on the resolution, Madigan motioned for an amendment of the resolution to forward the findings to another entity to address them if the Atorney General’s office is not the right one.

“They needed more facts and I was not ready to share more facts with them at this time,” Madigan said. “So if they are not the right entity to address this issue, we may want to amend to find out who is.”

The Ethics Board’s findings follow accusations that Mayor Yepsen was seeking employment for grant writing services with the Saratoga Hospital Foundation while the City Council was actively participating in business with the hospital. The hospital was seeking approval from the Council for an expansion. After Mayor Yepsen recused herself from voting on the matter for the fourth time, according to Council members, concern was raised.

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In a letter to the Ethics Board from one of Mayor Yepsen’s attorneys, Robert Ryan, Mayor Yepsen contacted the Ethics Board in January 2016 requesting an advisory opinion as to whether she would have to recuse herself from voting. The expansion had been actively discussed since August 2015. In March 2016, the Ethics Board responded to a letter of inquiry submitted by Madigan as to whether the mayor had violated the Ethics Code. Madigan stated that this letter was discussed and approved by not only her, but Scirocco and Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen.

Ryan’s letter states that the Ethics Board’s interpretation of the Ethics Code is misplaced.

“Without the ability to cure an actual or perceived conflict of interest through disclosure, recusal and abstention, it would effectively make all but a handful of citizens ineligible to sit on boards of the city,” the letter reads.

It also defends Mayor Yepsen by asserting that the Hospital Foundation was not the applicant for the expansion, and even if this were so, the board’s determination that the Foundation submitting a zoning application is “doing business” is misplaced. Madigan disagrees with this statement and believes the council was in fact doing business with the Hospital Foundation.

During the public comment period of the Council meeting, several community members accused the council of trying to run a smear campaign against the mayor for political gain. These individuals accused members of the Council of being under investigation themselves, which, during the response period, prompted Madigan to defend herself.

Public commenter Phil Diamond accused Madigan and Scirocco of being under investigation by the New York state comptroller in regard to water connection. According to Madigan, there was a 4-1 vote to waive water connection fees, and this was not just a Department of Finance or Department of Public Works vote. Madigan said that her department has been working very closely with the comptroller throughout these investigations and they are not directly focused on Scirocco, but look at water fees over the past 40 years.

Madigan had criticized the mayor for her handling of this investigation, saying she went to the press before bringing it to the Council’s attention. Mayor Yepsen defended herself by stating that the comptroller had reached out to her first.

Madigan then turned her comments toward public commenter Mark Lawton, denying that there is any smear campaign being conducted.

“Things happen, we need to take a look at them and we need to take them seriously,” Madigan stated.

Lawton was offended that Madigan used his name directly. An argument unfolded in which Madigan had Lawton escorted out by a police officer. Lawton left the room stating “so much for freedom of speech.”

Madigan said the reason she asked for Lawton’s removal is because he was shouting at her after public comment period had ended. She said it was time for the council to respond and public comment was closed. According to her, this is not the first time that Lawton has done something like this.

“The Mayor is the presiding officer. She is in charge of running the meeting and keeping order. We have had many meetings where there is no order,” said Madigan. “That’s upsetting to us. We want to feel safe and secure.”

After the exchange, a verbal back-and-forth occurred between Mayor Yepsen and Madigan. Madigan accused one of the public commenters to be the mayor’s “boyfriend” and Mayor Yepsen gaveled Madigan to end the discussion.

Mayor Yepsen said that the Ethics Board needs to stop being used as a political tool and that the Code of Ethics needs to be revisited to improve its language.


 

Clip Of Scrum During Public Comment Period

Clip Of Exchange Between Mayor Yepsen and Commissioner Scirocco

 

Edited Fuller Video Of Variety Of Exchanges Over Censure

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Video and Low Drama From the Debate Over the Censuring of Mayor Yepsen”

  1. “Mayor Yepsen defended herself by stating that the comptroller had reached out to her first.” (from the meeting the other night)

    From an article back in October of 2014.
    http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Mayor-seeks-probe-into-waiver-of-Spa-City-water-5805223.php

    “After this issue has come to my attention, including signed documents from the Public Works Department admitting mistakes,” Yepsen said, “I have determined that a forensic investigation relating to waivers of water connection fees should be conducted. Therefore, my office will be requesting such a review by appropriate agencies.”

    Clearly, she has no idea what the truth is any more. The truth is, you went to the state, with less of a reason to have your political opponents “investigated”, so your corrupt boyfriend could have a campaign tool, during election time. The other council members didn’t agree with your assessment, that it should go down to the state, so you threw them under the bus as well. Now there is an actual reason, but you feel the state shouldn’t look into it. Funny how that line of logic works.

    Liked by 1 person

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