[JK: I received this release from Commissioner Madigan. Saratoga Today published it in this week’s edition. In speaking to Commissioner Madigan she also noted that this type of purchase also requires “quotes” from three different vendors. ]
At Tuesday’s, August 2, 2106, City Council meeting Mayor Yepsen asked the council to approve a letter of engagement from Harris Beach Law Firm for its representation of her before the City’s Ethics Board. The City Charter (section 4.4.13 Payments Prohibited) requires that Council members seek prior approval before incurring liabilities for which the city will be responsible. Her engagement letter was dated May 2016 and included an hourly rate of $230.00 per hour. It is most unfortunate that Mayor Yepsen waited until August to seek Council approval of this engagement and thus provided the council with an invoice that totaled $12,340.00 – which calculates to approximately 54 hours of work. It places the members of the Council, especially the Commissioner of Finance who is required under law to “promulgate Finance Policy and Procedures”, in an extremely awkward situation as this request asks us to violate our City Charter and Finance Policy. Additionally, this taxpayer expense seems excessive for such a basic and non-legal matter; essentially the Mayor asked the taxpayers to pay for her rebuttal to a non-binding Advisory Opinion from the Ethics Board that found “as a matter of law” the Mayor violated section 13.3.I of the City’s Ethics Code. It also begs the question for a more detailed itemized invoice. Commissioner Mathiesen requested we forward the Harris Beach invoice to the NYS Bar Association for review of excessive hourly billing. However, since neither the Council or the public received an itemized invoice, the Council has no way of knowing what the Mayor asked Harris Beach to do for those 54 hours. The Mayor had plenty of time to present a contract to the Council, at least 3 months, as Harris Beach presented the Mayor with the contract in May. With Council guidance and approval, we could have requested a stronger contract, better rates, and included a clause not to expend beyond a certain amount, or denied the contract from the begininng – all of which are standard practice. Instead the Mayor unilaterally signed the contract without proper approvals and presented the City taxpayers with an unitemized liability for $12,340.00. The invoice was approved 3-2. However, before paying this invoice on behalf of the taxpayer, it is only fair the Council and public receive an itemized invoice for services requested by Mayor Yepsen and rendered by Harris Beach.