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.”
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.
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.
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: email@example.com.
Associate Professor of Political Science and Environmental Studies and Sciences
Director, Environmental Studies and Sciences Program
According to New York State municipal law, local governments are required to fund charter commission expenses. Charter commissions are also meant to be able to operate freely without interference from the local governments that establish them.
These were the arguments put forward by our own local charter commission when they voted to have a special election on May 30th for the referendum on whatever they finally decide on and to ask the City Council for funding.
The problem is that the law is often more nuanced than laymen think when they read statutes. Implicit in the charter commission’s right to spend money crafting a charter is reasonableness. For example, the courts might not respond favorably if the commission chartered a Lear Jet to fly them to the Bahamas to a conference on government organization. While that is an extreme example, it is meant to point out that the power for a commission to spend is not unlimited. As attorneys will tell you, it is always risky to bet the house on what judges or juries will do.
Whether it is reasonable to spend $37,000.00 on a special election when it could be done without additional cost to the city in November is subject to controversy. The charter commission has put forward some thoughtful reasons for choosing May 30 for their vote. Thursday’s Gazette Newspaper editorialized against their plan. I am not going to go over the arguments on both sides as I have posts that I think fairly represents both of these arguments.
If the Council votes not to fund the May 30 vote, it seems it is possible that the Mayor could then certify that the expense is reasonable and necessary if she is asked to do that by the charter commission. What happens after that is unclear.
My assessment is that there could possibly be three votes on the Council against paying for the May 30 election whereas there would be unanimity to pay for the commission’s other expenses. When Commissioner Madigan requested the meeting for January 25, she expected that the full Council would discuss and decide these issues. When it turned out that John Franck, whose office would be in charge of running the special election, would not be able to attend that threw a wrench in the gears.
Between the grayness of the law and the passions of the players this is one very testy question. Had Madigan and Scirocco attended the meeting and opposed the resolution to pay for the election it would have failed on a tie with Yepsen and Mathiesen probably voting in favor. It appears to me that on such a serious decision, Madigan and Scirocco were not comfortable having it made by a minority. The decision needed to be made by the full five member council.
It remains to be seen how John Franck will vote on paying for a special election.
As Franck only made known his inability to attend the meeting that morning, it put Madigan on the spot since she had requested the meeting. She contacted the Mayor asking that the meeting be canceled and that the issue be decided at the next Council meeting. Her statement citing her reasons for this action is below. Commissioner Scirocco also contacted the Mayor to say he would not be attending the meeting for the reasons cited in his statement below.
So it was now the Mayor’s move. The Mayor, knowing that there would not be a quorum present could have canceled the meeting. She chose not to. In response to an email from me as to why, she responded, “…I felt it important for transparency that I live stream and report to the full room of people who came to participate in public comment why we couldn’t have an official meeting [See full text below].” If you have spent any time around city politics you know that the supporters of charter reform who attended knew that there would be no quorum. The Mayor told the audience: “It’s a shame that we will not be having an official meeting. It’s unfortunate our colleagues are not here to uphold their duty.”
The charter members present then voiced their frustration over the delay.
I leave it to the readers to apportion blame in all this if they are so inclined.
I received a release from Commissioner Michele Madigan. The release asserts that she advised you this morning (January 25, 2017) that in addition to John Franck, that she and Commissioner Scirocco would not be attending today’s council meeting. Would be helpful to know why, since there would not be a quorum, you went forward with the meeting?
Mayor Yepsen responds Wed 1/25/2017 9:11 PM
Commissioner Madigan asked for the meeting. I rearranged my schedule to accommodate. The Charter Commission needs funds to operate. I didn’t hold the meeting However I felt it important for transparency that I live stream and report to the full room of people who came to participate in public comment why we couldn’t have an official meeting. I asked for role call and read the public agenda for the record and left the council table. I feel it’s Important as the presiding officer of the council to do everything possible to conduct the people’s business. Every Commissioner had to make a decision today. I sent an email this morning that “I was not cancelling the meeting and I hoped they would make every effort to attend”. Each Commissioner had a choice today.
Commissioner Scirocco’s Release
Earlier this morning I alerted the Mayor that without full representation by the City Council I would not be in attendance for the meeting and would prefer discussing the Charter Review Commission’s budgetary matter at the next council meeting. It had been indicated that both Commissioner Madigan and Commissioner Franck would not be in attendance this afternoon. I feel it only fair that when voting on an important issue that impacts all City Residents, and our future as a city, that all members of the council are in attendance. No matter what their position on charter change or a special election, the entire council should vote on this important issue as it involves spending taxpayers hard-earned dollars. People have a right to know how their money is being spent. If you have any further questions please call my cell: -Skip
Michele Madigan’s Release
Members of the Press,
Earlier this morning it was communicated to the Mayor that Commissioner Franck would not be able to attend the special meeting today at 4:00 for professional reasons. As a result, I asked that the meeting I requested regarding the Charter Commission Budget Amendments be cancelled as I want all 5 members of the City Council to weigh in and vote on these important budget amendments from the Charter Review Commission. Commissioner Scirocco agreed and also stated that he wanted all 5 members of the City Council to weigh in and vote on this important matter.
I personally called the Mayor’s office and emailed the Mayor’s office asking for the special meeting to be cancelled.
Therefore, there was not going to be a quorum for this meeting. I expect that Mayor decided not to officially cancel the meeting as was expected and requested of her to do once she realized there would be no quorum. It is unfortunate that this occurred and that many of you came to this meeting as notice should have gone out informing you there would be no meeting.
As a result I will bring the budget amendments on the February 7, 2017 City Council Meeting in order to avoid this happening again in the future. I am the Commissioner who requested this meeting and I am the Commissioner who requested it be cancelled if all members could not be in attendance. There was no reason for the situation that occurred today at 4:00 pm.
Thank you and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions.
I suppose in the future I will send out notice of cancellations when it will be known that there will not be a quorum necessary to hold a City Council Meeting. I did my best to communicate with all Commissioners and the Mayor regarding the cancellation of this meeting today.
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. >> President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of the army allegedly punched a security worker during a Fasig-Tipton horse sale last Aug. 8 in Saratoga Springs.
The incident was reported Wednesday by The New York Times, two days before Trump’s inauguration Friday as the 45th president of the United States.
The Times said billionaire Vincent Viola, 60, a retired army ranger, punched a worker who allegedly pushed Viola’s wife, Teresa, when she tried to enter a restricted kitchen area to obtain water for a woman who had fainted.
In a statement, Trump Transition Team spokesman David White said, “Mr. Viola will always stand up and defend his wife, and in this case there was a simple disagreement with the matter being dropped and no charges were filed. Mr. Viola notified the Transition Team of the disagreement early on in the process and we consider this matter closed.”
The Times obtained a Saratoga Springs police report about the incident through a Freedom of Information Act request. The same redacted report was provided to The Saratogian on Thursday.
Saratoga Springs Police Chief Greg Veitch said Thursday neither Viola nor the security worker were charged because police didn’t witness the incident and neither man wanted to press charges.
“Mr. Viola did not make any admissions that he did, in fact, punch the employee and the employee stated that he did not push Mrs. Viola,” Veitch said in a press release.
But the police report says the security worker “sustained a swollen, bloody lip as a result of the alleged punch.”
The Times described the employee as a “concessions worker.”
But Angelo Mazzone, owner of Clifton Park-based Mazzone Hospitality LLC, said the person was a temporary security worker, hired by former Saratoga Springs Police Chief Chris Cole, who is now Mazzone’s security administrator.
“When we do big events like rock concerts and horse sales we need security,” Mazzone said. “Usually Chris does it himself. Sometimes he hires extra people.”
It is not clear if the security worker was in uniform or wearing plain clothes.
Kentucky-based Fasig-Tipton holds prestigious horse sales each summer during the Saratoga racing season. The most prized yearlings quite often fetch more than $1 million.
In his report, the responding Saratoga Springs police officer said he was flagged down by a patron outside the East Avenue sales pavilion, and advised about a verbal dispute taking place upstairs.
The report says Viola confronted the security worker after Viola’s wife pointed him out, about 45 minutes after the alleged pushing incident.
“The two subjects then engaged in a verbal dispute,” the police officer’s report says. “(The security worker) states the argument escalated with Viola punching him just prior to my arrival on the scene.”
Fasig-Tipton President Boyd Browning said Thursday, “Fasig-Tipton conducted an internal investigation of the incident and determined that any allegations of assault were without merit.”
Viola recently purchased a home at 704 North Broadway, in Saratoga Springs, for $2.5 million from Albany businessman Ed Swyer. Viola made much of his estimated $1.8 billion fortune with Virtu Financial, a Wall Street high-frequency trading firm he co-founded.
Viola also owns the NHL’s Florida Panthers, and he and his wife both own racing stables and several champion horses such as Liam’s Map, winner of the 2015 $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, at Keeneland.
The Times said Viola purchased a yearling for $200,000 during last summer’s sale, when the incident allegedly occurred.
Fasig-Tipton President Boyd Browning could not immediately be reached for comment about the incident.
The secretary of the army is the top civilian in charge of this branch of the military’s budget and personnel.
Viola’s appointment awaits U.S. Senate confirmation. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has previously expressed support for Trump’s choice.
In tweets reported by the Washington Post, Schumer said Viola is “second to none” and that he’s “up for the job.”
If you follow my blog you know that I try to minimize the use of hyperboles and harsh language in my posts. The recommendation by the Charter Commission to make our two representatives to the County Board of Supervisors voting members of the city council makes restraint simply impossible for me, though. Whatever you may think about the commission form of government versus the city manager form, putting our representatives to the county on the city council would be a disastrous change.
The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors is plain and simple a disgrace. Dominated by one party they are a study in cronyism. They have operated this way for decades. There have been a number of outrageous scandals in recent years, however, which have indicated a marked decline in the integrity of this board and there has not been the slightest glimmer that this sclerotic institution can change.
Several of the worst recent scandals happened when one of our own supervisosr, Matt Veitch, was chairman of the board and our other representative, Peter Martin, was on the board.
The point here is not to personalize the problem to these two men. The real issue is what self respecting person would ever want to waste their time in such a place. The only reasons I can think of to want to serve on this board are:
Possibly benefit from the cronyism
Get health insurance for life which is a benefit if you serve long enough.
Build name recognition to run for a better office.
Such people are not the kind of individuals that we need voting on our city issues.
Below are a series of posts that document some of the scandals that have plagued the county. In most cases Mr. Veitch publically defended these and Mr. Martin chose the route of silence. These men report to the City Council at the end of each meeting and neither of them ever mentioned any of these scandals. Do we really want people like this as voting members of our council?
The Infamous Energy Plant
The county built a cogeneration plant in 2002 that was to provide electricity to the county’s nursing home and allegedly save millions of dollars. It turned out that it cost $3,000,000.00 to build the plant, and the plant lost money every year until 2016 when the county wanted to sell the nursing home to a private equity fund. The fund would only close the deal if the county decoupled the plant from the agreement.
How one might ask could the county run the plant at an annual loss for over a decade without taking action? Why, one might ask, did the county not take legal action against Siemens Corporation who sold them the idea and built the plant as at least one other county did? In fact, the D.A. in Warren County opened a criminal investigation into a similar deal Siemens made.
Most relevant to this discussion is why did our supervisors, Matt Vietch and Peter Martin not insist on a full investigation to find out who was responsible and what action against Siemens was possible?
For all the sordid details and the role our supervisors played, here are links to coverage of this story and others below.