Saratoga Springs City Council eyes decorum after criticism
By Travis Clark, firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted: 08/03/16, 5:01 PM EDT |
@TravClark2 on Twitter
SARATOGA SPRINGS >> Decorum was a running theme at Tuesday’s City Council meeting after many of the city’s elected officials have been criticized over the past few weeks over the way they treat each other and members of the public.
Mayor Joanne Yepsen came prepared with hard copies of the rules for conduct at public meetings, as a reminder to both the public in attendance and the council members themselves. Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan even included a discussion of decorum as part of her agenda for the evening. The City Council has been noticeably, and unapologetically, lashing out at each other recently in the midst of a recent ethics violation by Yepsen. The council voted to censure her for seeking freelance work with the Saratoga Hospital Foundation while the council was actively doing business with the foundation.
For the past two Tuesday biweekly council meetings, personal attacks and heated debate has been the norm — which even boiled over into Monday’s pre-agenda meeting when Commissioner of Accounts John Franck and Madigan contested with each other over an issue involving assessments.
Madigan said a concerned citizen came to the Department of Finance outlining issues with assessments within the Special Assessment District. When Madigan requested a meeting with Franck and Tony Popolizio, Franck declined. Madigan said she felt this was a commissioner-to-commissioner issue, and felt uncomfortable not meeting with Franck.
The tension between Franck and Madigan flowed into Monday’s pre-agenda meeting when Madigan included an item on her agenda requesting the mayor authorize a contract with an independent auditor who has expertise in assessments. Madigan would eventually drop this item from her agenda for Tuesday’s regular meeting — but not before a heated conversation Monday.
Madigan claimed that Franck “swore” about her to the city attorney, to which Franck responded “much like you do at every bar in town.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, the conflict continued when Madigan came to her agenda item on decorum at meetings. One of Madigan’s issues included council members not staying on topic. She also said the Deputy of Accounts laughed at the Finance Director when approached, to which Franck said she was not on topic. Madigan immediately requested to amend her agenda item to include both City Council meetings and decorum within City Hall in general. Madigan, Commissioner of Public Works Anthony Scirocco and Commissioner of Public Safety Christian Mathiesen voted in favor while Mayor Yepsen and Franck voted against.
“I’m very upset with what is transpiring in City Hall,” Madigan said. “There’s a commissioner that is refusing to meet with me, so I have to address it at City Hall.”
This type of behavior has been a common occurrence in recent weeks, particularly between Madigan and Yepsen, who have regularly argued during public meetings.
At the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, Yepsen reminded council members to turn their cell phones off. During the meeting, Madigan’s cell phone beeped, to which the mayor responded “That’s why we turn cell phones off.” Madigan said she communicates with her deputy and has a child at home, so she will not be turning her cell phone off. Franck chimed in, saying Madigan is texting at least 10 people during the meeting.
On Wednesday, Madigan said the mayor handled the interaction between Franck and her well Tuesday, but she would like to see that more consistently.
During her decorum agenda item, Madigan also made it clear she does not respect how the mayor runs meetings. Madigan said even though the previous mayor and she disagreed politically, he still ran an efficient meeting. Madigan said the council needs to feel safe and that Yepsen does not keep the public in line.
Madigan said her behavior is far from perfect, but she is frustrated because the public should not be allowed to “berate” the council.
Madigan was also concerned that council members frequently interrupt each other, even though Yepsen had to gavel Madigan several times for this very problem Tuesday. Madigan routinely says she is on her agenda, which gives her the right to speak.
In the rules for conduct at public meetings, it states “council members shall make every effort to avoid interrupting another Council member’s speaking. In siutations where interruptions become frequent, the Mayor or presiding officer shall have authority to determine the order in which Council members will speak.”
Yepsen said that the rules are clear and there should be no confusion.
“The rules need to be adhered to,” she said. “I have the gavel and I need cooperation. I can’t have people making personal or political attacks.”