Congressman Faso Comes Out Against Executive Order

Well, John Faso has apparently read the order and now comes out against it.

Several quotes from Faso:

“I believe that the order was neither well drafted nor well implemented.”

“There is no doubt that we need to thoroughly vet people coming from countries where there are strongholds of ISIS and al-Qaida. At the same time, we have to balance our security with the need to respect the rights of US citizens and people who are subject to valid immigration proceedings, including lawful permanent residents.”

 

Good For Congresswoman Stefanik!

According to a January 29th posting on the Times Union web site, U.S. Congressional Representative Elise Stefanik (R-Essex County) offered the following at the New York Conservative Party’s PAC conference on Sunday:

“I think it is rushed and overly broad. I’ve been supportive on the House Armed Services Committee (of) giving precedence [JK:I think she meant preference] to Afghans and Iraqis who have worked with us as translators. I think it was misguided. And I do think any type of immigration reform when it comes to our visa program should come through Congress.”

In contrast, Congressman John Faso (R-Kinderhook) said he did not know enough  to offer an opinion on President Trump’s executive order.

 

Deal for City To Buy Lot On Union Avenue For Emergency Services Killed By Attorney General

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Link To Full Document: yeshiva-belz-ag-determination-01-17-17

In 2014 the city entered into a complex transaction to purchase land out Union Avenue to provide emergency services to the eastern plateau.  The land is owned by the congregation of Yeshiva Pardes Yosef D’Chasidei Belz which is defined under New York law as a religious organization.  The transaction involved the city simultaneously selling the parking lot adjacent to the Algonquin Building, the Collamer parking lot, and acquiring the Union Avenue property.

In order for a religious institution to sell property, New York State law requires the approval of the Attorney General. 

Attorney Michael Toohey represented Joel Aronson, the president of the congregation, in its petition to the Attorney General. 

In a letter to attorney Michael Touhey dated January 17, 2017, Assistant Attorney General Nathan M. Courtney, on behalf of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman denied the petition.

AAG Courtney wrote that “undisclosed in the petition is the fact that the Yeshiva’s sale of the Union Avenue lot to the city was made contingent on the sale, by the city, of a valuable piece of real estate to a related third party.  During the course of our investigation of this matter we learned that a third party, The Algonquin Building LLC (LLC), owned by Ben Aronson (“Ben”), Joel’s son, was a party to a three way transaction among the yeshiva, the city, and the LLC involving the Union Avenue lot, as well as the parking lot next to the Algonquin Building, owned by the LLC, on Broadway, known as the Collamer Lot (‘the three way transaction). ”  

As I read this, the Attorney General was troubled by the fact that the petition failed to divulge that the president of the congregation (the formal petitioner) was negotiating a deal that would benefit his son who would personally acquire a valuable piece of property if the deal went through.

As I read the letter, the sale must be based on benefiting the religious organization or its members.  It cites the following Federal code,

“[a]n organization is not organized or operated exclusively for one or more of the purposes specified in subdivision (i) of this subparagraph unless it serves a public rather than a private interest.  Thus to meet the requirements of this subdivision, it is necessary for an organization to establish that it is not organized or operated for the benefit of private interests such as designated individuals, the creator, or his family, shareholders of the corporation, or persons controlled directly or indirectly, by such private interests.”

Basically, it appears that Joel Aronson and the congregation was selling the property in a way that would benefit Mr. Aronson’s son and the Attorney General did not see how this sale fit into the religious mission of the congregation.

As noted by this opinion, denying this petition puts an end to the sale of the Union Avenue property for the proposed public safety building meant to provide emergency services.

At the time of the original agreement there was a very heated controversy with a variety of accusations about the legality of the city’s role and whether or not the deal made financial sense.  A local group led by among others, my friends Tom and Bill McTygue and Raymond Watkin, went to court to block the deal unsuccessfully.   I must say that in one of the early posts of this blog, I pointed out that the relationship between the Aronsons and their congregation seemed problematic and was the weakest link in this business.  Even a blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut.

 

Charter Commission “Dynamic Mayor”

[JK: Received This Release Today]

Press Release From Charter Commission [January 27, 2017]

Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission Endorses Dynamic Mayor; Rejects Ceremonial Mayor Role

The Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission discussed the powers of the mayor under their proposed new charter.  The Commission was unanimous that it wanted a dynamic mayor elected by voters to represent the city rather than ceremonial mayor.

At their January 24th meeting the Commission voted 14-0 in favor of a council manager form of government. Under traditional council manager form, the mayor is selected by the council and has the same powers as other council members and plays more of a ceremonial role.  However, the Commission felt strongly that Saratoga Springs needed a mayor who could provide dynamic leadership and rejected the weak mayor model.

Commission Chair Bob Turner, who is also an associate professor of Political Science at Skidmore, pointed out that very few city governments are a pure strong mayor or council manager model.  “The vast majority of cities have a hybrid form that combine the political leadership and coalition building of the strong mayor model with the professional expertise and administrative efficiencies of a city manager or administrator.””

The Commission supported direct elections for the mayor and four year terms. Laura Chodos said, “I think we want a mayor who is accountable to the voters.”   Mike Los said he felt that the mayor would be more effective in collaboratively working with stakeholders to address city challenges if he or she were not bogged down with the details of managing the city’s staff.

Barb Thomas said, “I think Saratoga Springs voters want a visible leader who can reach out to the community and build consensus on a vision for the future.”    Under the proposed charter, the mayor would have the power to create ad hoc committees, as they can now, as well as appointment to land use and ethics boards.  However, the Commission felt that the appointment to city boards should be subject to a confirmation vote by the city council since many have a 7 year long term.

The Commission did not decide whether the mayor should be full time or not.  Bob Turner pointed, “Every former mayor who has spoken to us said it was a 50+ hour a week job with part time pay.”  Gordon Boyd said, “I think Saratoga Springs needs someone who can articulate the city’s interests to outside stakeholders like NYRA, the State government, and the business community.”

The commission also reviewed the research of New York’s preeminent constitutional scholar and SUNY Professor Gerald Benjamin on the appointment and removal of city managers.  The commission supported having the city council be able to appoint and remove the city manager,

Pat Kane said, “I like having a 1 year contract for the city manager to keep him or her on toes working to meet the needs of the city and city council.”   The Commission also supported having clear qualifications in the charter for the manager/administrator, covering the education and experience of the city manager in the charter.  Professor Turner said, “Both law professors I have spoken with said this prevents a city council from hiring an unqualified political crony to do their bidding.”

The Charter Review Commission will hold its next two meetings on February 2nd and 6th from 7-9pm at City Hall, where they will discuss the role of county supervisors, ethics provisions, the city attorney’s office, the identification of departments and land use boards, vacancies, the Recreation commission, and the city clerk.

The Commission is expected to finish their draft of the revised charter by the middle of February.  Voters will have a vote in a Charter Referendum on May 30th.  For more information, see Saratogacharter.com.   If you wish to share a comment with the Commission or to ask a question, send an email to: saratogaspringscharter@gmail.com.

Bob Turner

Associate Professor of Political Science and Environmental Studies and Sciences

Director, Environmental Studies and Sciences Program

Additional Documents:

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