Ethics Board: Attempt To Cover Up Or Case of Miscommunication?

Following the March 9, 2017 meeting of the Ethics Board, I decided that I needed to go back to check the minutes of the previous meeting.  There had been no meeting in February but consistent with the history of this board, they had not posted their minutes for January.  This prompted me to see how long it had been since they had posted their minutes.  November of 2016 was the last time.  The New York State Open Meetings Law requires that minutes of public meetings be posted within two weeks.  By my calculation, they were three months and two months late respectively.

For several weeks I had been trying to arrange a meeting with the mayor that would include Commissioner Mathiesen, city attorney Vince DeLeonardis, assistant city attorney Tony Izzo, and Jerry Luhn.  Among the items to be discussed were the continuing problems with the management of the Ethics Board and the proposed revisions to the city’s ethics code.  It took a while to find a date that we would all be available and March 23 was finally decided on.

The night before the meeting I emailed the mayor apprising her of the fact that the minutes for the December, January, and March meetings were missing from the city website and therefore late and in violation of the Open Meetings Law.

I received an email back on the day of the meeting from the mayor in which she forwarded Trish Bush’s response regarding the missing minutes.  Ms. Bush is the assistant to the city attorney.  In that capacity she attends the Ethics Board’s meetings in order to record the minutes of their meetings.  She is also responsible for posting their minutes on the city website.  Ms. Bush stated that all the minutes were up on the city’s website.  She offered that:

“Perhaps Mr. Kaufmann doesn’t know how to access them, but they are on the same page as City Council meetings if you continue to scroll down under Ethics Board.”

I immediately went to the city site and found that indeed the minutes were now there.

It is important for the readers to understand that there is nothing on the city website that indicates when an item like the minutes of the Ethics Board was posted so there was no longer a public record documenting the violation.

Later that day I attended the meeting.  Right at the beginning I raised the issue of the minutes.  I noted that I was quite familiar with the city’s web site and that as recently as the previous week those minutes had not been there which put the Ethics Board in violation.  No one argued with me that I was wrong but no one admitted that they had only recently put the minutes up and that the Ethics Board had been in violation.  I had brought with me a Freedom of Information request for the dates when the minutes were posted and who it was that posted them. I would need this information to validate that there had been a violation.  I handed the FOIL to either Mr. Deleonardis or Mr. Izzo.

The meeting went well.  In fairness to the participants I am not posting the details.  I will say that the mayor and the city attorney were quite attentive and forthcoming on the issues.  I would say that there was general agreement that there were problems with the way the Ethics Board transacts its business.  The mayor appeared to be supportive of the revisions of the city’s ethics code as put forth by Commissioner Mathiesen, Jerry Luhn, Geoff Bornemann, and myself.

To Ms. Bush’s credit, the response to my FOIL was extraordinarily prompt. I received it on the following day which I have to say is some kind of record.

Her request to the IT department on my behalf was rather informal.  She told them, “I am looking for the Ethics Board minutes of December 2016, January and March of 2017.  If you can also tell who posted them that would be great [JK:My emphasis added].”

Less than ten minutes later she had a response.  They advised her that It was she who had posted them.  She had posted the December minutes on March 17, 2017 and the other two on March 21.

I then wrote to the mayor and the city attorney offering that it appeared to me that Ms. Bush had attempted to hide the fact that the minutes had been months late and in violation of the Open Meetings Law.  I noted the importance of the Open Meetings Law and asked that they acknowledge this and take such actions to avoid this reoccurring.

City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis responded that there had been no attempt to misrepresent the postings and that Ms. Bush had been correct when she asserted that the minutes were on the city’s website.

I may be accused of being uncharitable but I find it odd that Ms. Bush asks the IT people if they could tell her who posted the minutes.  I have sufficient respect for Ms. Bush that it is hard to believe that she did not recall that as recently as two days before she had posted minutes on the city’s website.  It is possible that Ms. Bush did not realize that the software the city uses records all this information.

As always, I leave it to the readers to decide what happened.

The documents:


From: “Trish Bush” <trish.bush@saratoga-springs.org>

To: “James Baker” <james.baker@saratoga-springs.org>

Sent: Friday, March 24, 2017 8:58:47 AM

Subject: Re: Website Minutes Timestamp

Hi Jim,

I’m looking for the Ethics Board minutes of December 2016, January and March of 2017. If you can also tell who posted them, that would be great. This is for a FOIL request.

Thanks!

Trish

Trish Bush, Executive Assistant, City Attorney’s Office, City of Saratoga Spring


From : James Baker <james.baker@saratoga-springs.org>

Subject : Re: Website Minutes Timestamp

To : Trish Bush <trish.bush@saratoga-springs.org>

Zimbra trish.bush@saratoga-springs.org

Re: Website Minutes Timestamp

Fri, March 24, 2017 9:05 AM

According to the websites history log:

December 2016 Minute – BOE Minutes 12-8-16.pdf 3/17/2017 1:36:48 PM Bush, Trish

January 2017 Minute – BOE Minutes 1.12.17.pdf 3/21/2017 8:43:07 AM Bush, Trish

March 2017 Minute – BOE Minutes 3.9.17.pdf 3/21/2017 8:42:21 AM Bush, Trish

Thank You,

Jim Baker, Help Desk Technician, City of Saratoga Springs New York


 

From: “John Kaufmann” <>
Date: March 22, 2017 at 12:48:33 PM EDT
To: “‘Joanne Yepsen'” <joanne.yepsen@saratoga-springs.org>,
“Christian Mathiesen” <Christian.Mathiesen@saratoga-
springs.org>, “‘Vincent DeLeonardis'”
<vincent.deleonardis@saratoga-springs.org>, “‘Tony Izzo'”
<tony.izzo@saratoga-springs.org>, “‘jerry luhn’,
“Jane Weihe”
Subject: Missing Minutes

In reviewing the city’s website regarding the Ethics Board, they have
not posted the minutes of their meetings going back to December of
last year.  I am not sure whether this violates the Open Meetings Law,
but the failure to post records of their meetings is simply another
example of their apparent indifference for the need for transparency.



From: Joanne Yepsen [joanne.yepsen@saratoga-springs.org]
Sent: Thursday, March 23, 2017 9:14 AM
To: john.kaufmann
Cc: Vince DeLeonardis; Tony Izzo; Christian Mathiesen; Eileen Finneran; Meg
Kelly
Subject: Fwd: Missing Minutes

John, I checked into your concern. Please see below and let Trish know if you’re still having trouble.
Thank you.
Joanne

From: Trish Bush <trish.bush@saratoga-springs.org>
Date: March 22, 2017 at 1:54:19 PM EDT
To: Joanne Yepsen <joanne.yepsen@saratoga-springs.org>
Cc: Meg Kelly <meg.kelly@saratoga-springs.org>,  Lisa Shields <lisa.shields@saratoga-
springs.org>
Subject: Re: Missing Minutes
Mayor,

The minutes of all meetings from 2012 through and including the March 2017
meeting are on the City’s website.  I have posted many of them myself.  Perhaps
Mr. Kaufmann doesn’t know how to access them, but they are on the same page
as City Council meetings if you continue to scroll down under Ethics Board.  The
Ethics Board does not meet every month, only when there is business before
them, therefore some years have less than 12 minutes posted.

Please let me know if I can be of further help or if you would like me to contact
Mr. Kaufmann directly.

Thanks,
Trish

Trish Bush
Executive Assistant
City Attorney’s Office
City of Saratoga Springs
(518) 587-3550 x2516


From: “John Kaufmann”
To: “Joanne Yepsen” <joanne.yepsen@saratoga-springs.org>, “Vincent DeLeonardis”
<vincent.deleonardis@saratoga-springs.org>
Cc: “trish bush” <trish.bush@saratoga-springs.org>, “Tony Izzo” <tony.izzo@saratoga-
springs.org>, “Jane Weihe” >, “jerry luhn”
Sent: Monday, March 27, 2017 10:49:22 PM
Subject: Troublesome Misrepresentation

On March 22nd I emailed Mayor Yepsen advising her that the Ethics Board had failed to post their minutes for their meetings in December and January on the city website as required by the Open Meetings Law.

In response the Mayor forwarded to me a copy of an email from Trish Bush, the executive assistant to  the City Attorney, in which Ms. Bush states that the minutes were on the site and  stated “Perhaps Mr. Kaufmann doesn’t know how to access them.”
I then went back to the city’s website and found that they had indeed now been posted.   I had been closely monitoring the website and as recently as the  week previous to my email to the Mayor they had not been on the site.

I then FOILed to find out when the missing minutes had been posted and who had posted them.  The records showed that it had been Ms. Bush herself  who had posted the missing minutes  only days before my email to the Mayor.  The postings were months beyond what the Open Meetings Law required.

What I find disturbing is that any reasonable person would have taken from Ms. Bush’s email that the minutes had been there all along and just overlooked.  Ms. Bush has worked closely with the Ethics Board for a number of years. I think it is not unreasonable to speculate that this was an attempt on Ms. Bush’s part to hide the fact that the Ethics Board was in violation of the Open Meetings Law.

I have no desire to see anything punitively done to Ms. Bush.  What I am seeking is an
acknowledgement of the seriousness of this incident and an affirmation that every attempt will be made to insure that this does not happen again.


From: Vincent DeLeonardis [vincent.deleonardis@saratoga-springs.org]
Sent: Monday, April 03, 2017 3:55 PM
To: John Kaufmann
Cc: joanne yepsen; tony izzo; trish bush;
jluhn@me.com; Meg Kelly
Subject: Re: Troublesome Misrepresentation

John,

I respectfully, but strongly, disagree with your suggestion or “speculat[ion]” that my assistant, Trish Bush, was somehow attempting to “hide” what you believe was a violation of the Open Meetings Law by the Ethics Board.

As you know from the FOIL response, the Ethics Board minutes for December and January were posted on March 17th and March 21st respectively.  Thus, when you e-mailed the Mayor on March 22nd indicating that the minutes had not been posted to the City’s website, Trish suggested that, perhaps, you were unable to access them and described where on the website they could be found.  There was no ill intent in her suggestion.

For some reason, you found her response “disturbing” and suggested that “any reasonable person would have taken from M. Bush’s e-mail that the minutes had been there all along and just overlooked” and suggested, unfairly and inappropriately, that “this was an attempt on Ms. Bush’s part to hide the fact that the Ethics Board was in violation of the Open Meetings Law”.  However, I would respectfully suggest that the only thing a reasonable person would have taken from her e-mail was that on March 22nd the minutes were available on the website — as, indeed, they were.

Trish assumed, quite reasonably, that when you e-mailed the Mayor on March 22nd contending that the minutes had not been posted, you had actually checked the website on that date, so as to support your contention.  She could not have reasonably known that “closely monitoring the website” actually meant that you had not checked it “as recently as the week previous”.

None of this is to say that the criticisms you have raised regarding the timely posting of meeting minutes from the Ethics Board are not valid.  Indeed, your concerns were duly acknowledged during our recent meeting and it was indicated that improvements would be made to ensure that the minutes will be posted on the website more expeditiously.  However, misplacing your frustrations with the Ethics Board on Trish is unwarranted.

Thus, while I appreciate that you “have no desire to see anything punitively done to Ms. Bush”, please be advised that there is no basis for that in any case.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.  Should you have any questions or
concerns, or should you wish to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Best regards,

Vince


From: John Kaufmann [john.kaufmann21@gmail.com]
Sent: Tuesday, April 04, 2017 2:36 PM
To: ‘Vincent DeLeonardis’
Cc: ‘joanne yepsen’; ‘tony izzo’; ‘trish bush’; ‘jane.weihe@gmail.com’;
‘jluhn@me.com’; ‘Meg Kelly’
Subject: RE: Troublesome Misrepresentation

Vince:
Thank you for your April 3 response to my email.

As I hope you know, I have only the highest respect for your work on behalf of the City.   While I can appreciate your understandable desire to protect your employee, the world is full of carefully parsed statements that while technically accurate are, at the same time, meant to shield or distract attention from a point.  I am afraid that for me, Ms. Bush’s email falls into that world.

You and I also apparently have different recollections of one element of the meeting.  At the beginning of the meeting I expressed my concern that Ms. Bush’s email asserting that the minutes were on the site left unresolved whether they had been posted in time to meet the Open Meeting Law.  I stated that to resolve this issue I was FOILing for the dates when they were posted and by whom. I handed the FOIL to either you or Tony.  The need to FOIL would have been made moot had someone at the meeting admitted that the city had only recently posted the minutes and accepted responsibility for the violation.  I do not recall such an admission.

I thought that you and the mayor were very attentive and serious in entertaining my concerns over the Ethics Board for which I am extremely appreciative.
JK

 

Following the March ??, 2017 meeting of the Ethics Board, I decided that I needed to go back to check the minutes of the previous meeting.  There had been no meeting in February but consistent with the history of this board, they had not posted their minutes for January.  This prompted me to see how long it had been since they had posted their minutes.  November of 2016 was the last time.  The New York State Open Meetings Law requires that minutes of public meetings be posted within two weeks.  By my calculation, they were three months and two months late respectively.

 

For several weeks I had been trying to arrange a meeting with the mayor that would include Commissioner Mathiesen, city attorney Vince DeLeonardis, assistant city attorney Tony Izzo, and Jerry Luhn.  Among the items to be discussed were the continuing problems with the management of the Ethics Board and the proposed revisions to the city’s ethics code.  It took a while to find a date that we would all be available and March 23 was finally decided on.

 

The night before the meeting I emailed the mayor apprising her of the fact that the minutes for the December, January, and March meetings were missing and therefore late and in violation of the Open Meetings Law.

 

I received an email back on the day of the meeting from the mayor in which she forwarded Trish Bush’s response regarding the missing minutes.  Ms. Bush is the assistant to the city attorney.  In that capacity she attends the Ethics Board’s meetings in order to take notes of their meetings.  She is also responsible for posting their minutes.  Ms. Bush stated that all the minutes were up on the city’s website.  She offered that:

 

“Perhaps Mr. Kaufmann doesn’t know how to access them, but they are on the same page

as City Council meetings if you continue to scroll down under Ethics Board.”

 

I immediately went to the city site and found that indeed the minutes were now there.

 

It is important for the readers to understand that there is nothing on the city website that indicates when an item like the minutes of the Ethics Board was posted so there was no longer a public record documenting the violation.

 

Later that day I attended the meeting.  Right at the beginning I raised the issue of the minutes.  I noted that I was quite familiar with the city’s web site and that as recently as the previous week those minutes had not been there which put the Ethics Board in violation.  No one argued with me that I was wrong but no one admitted that they had only recently put the minutes up and that the Ethics Board had been in violation.  I had brought with me a Freedom of Information request for the dates when the minutes were posted and who it was that posted them. I would need this information to validate that there had been a violation.  I handed the FOIL to either Mr. Deleonardis or Mr. Izzo.

 

The meeting went well.  In fairness to the participants I am not posting the details.  I will say that the mayor and the city attorney were quite attentive and forthcoming on the issues.  I would say that there was general agreement that there were problems with the way the Ethics Board transacts its business.  The mayor appeared to be supportive of the revisions of the city’s ethics code as put forth by Commissioner Mathiesen, Jerry Luhn, Geoff Bornemann, and myself.

 

To Ms. Bush’s credit, the response to my FOIL was extraordinarily prompt. I received it on the following day which I have to say is some kind of record.

 

Her request to the IT department on my behalf was rather informal.  She told them, “I am looking for the Ethics Board minutes of December 2016, January and March of 2017.  If you can also tell who posted them that would be great [JK:My emphasis added].”

 

Less than ten minutes later she had a response.  They advised her that It was she who had posted them.  She had posted the December minutes on March 17, 2017 and the other two on March 21.

 

I then wrote to the mayor and the city attorney offering that it appeared to me that Ms. Bush had attempted to hide the fact that the minutes had been months late and in violation of the Open Meetings Law.  I noted the importance of the Open Meetings Law and asked that they acknowledge this and take such actions to avoid this reoccurring.

 

City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis responded that there had been no attempt to misrepresent the postings and that Ms. Bush had been correct when she asserted that the minutes were on the city’s website.

 

I may be accused of being uncharitable but I find it odd that Ms. Bush asks the IT people if they could tell her who posted the minutes.  I have sufficient respect for Ms. Bush that it is hard to believe that she did not recall that as recently as two days before she had posted minutes on the city’s website.  It is possible that Ms. Bush did not realize that the software the city uses records all this information.

 

As always, I leave it to the readers to decide what happened.

 

The documents

 

From: “Trish Bush” <trish.bush@saratoga-springs.org>

To: “James Baker” <james.baker@saratoga-springs.org>

Sent: Friday, March 24, 2017 8:58:47 AM

Subject: Re: Website Minutes Timestamp

Hi Jim,

I’m looking for the Ethics Board minutes of December 2016, January and March of 2017. If you

can also tell who posted them, that would be great. This is for a FOIL request.

Thanks!

Trish

Trish Bush

Executive Assistant

City Attorney’s Office

City of Saratoga Springs

(518) 587-3550 x2516

 

From : James Baker <james.baker@saratoga-springs.org>

Subject : Re: Website Minutes Timestamp

To : Trish Bush <trish.bush@saratoga-springs.org>

Zimbra trish.bush@saratoga-springs.org

Re: Website Minutes Timestamp

Fri, March 24, 2017 9:05 AM

 

According to the websites history log:

December 2016

Minute – BOE Minutes 12-8-16.pdf 3/17/2017 1:36:48 PM Bush, Trish

January 2017

Minute – BOE Minutes 1.12.17.pdf 3/21/2017 8:43:07 AM Bush, Trish

March 2017

Minute – BOE Minutes 3.9.17.pdf 3/21/2017 8:42:21 AM Bush, Trish

Thank You,

Jim Baker

Help Desk Technician

City of Saratoga Springs New York

EXT 2566

4 thoughts on “Ethics Board: Attempt To Cover Up Or Case of Miscommunication?”

  1. I agree with the city attorney: “I respectfully, but strongly, disagree with your suggestion or “speculat[ion]” that my assistant, Trish Bush, was somehow attempting to “hide” what you believe was a violation of the Open Meetings Law by the Ethics Board.”

    With this posting, you just bit the hand that feeds you and maybe all of us, Trish Bush. She had your foil request response in record time as you admitted. I doubt you will ever receive such a quick response again. You will now wait the full 20 business days or more to get any information on a foil request. Good luck getting any current information that is less than 45 days old.

    There is no requirement that the minutes be posted on the website. The minutes are available at city hall. You can go down there and get them at any time you wish. You just have to find parking, walk into city hall when they are open and ask, after trudging through the snow, rain, or heat or whatever the weather is. The city can then say they will be ready tomorrow and then you can come back tomorrow, with your $0.25 per page fee. Remember when the internet does not work it is bullshit.

    I think you should apologize and send Trish Bush some flowers. The $75 you spend on flowers might just keep you in Trish Bushes good graces and expeditious responses to your foil requests.

    Like

    1. The law is clear on this. Minutes, even if they are drafts (yet to be approved) must be posted on the city website within two weeks. The specific language was posted on this Web site in a previous post.

      Like

  2. The reason taxpayers spend more for government services than they would via private industry is that the overhead for equal access, competitive bidding, union representation and the transparency (e.g., timely posting of public meeting minutes) that goes with these practices are extra costs. In return for this extra cost the civil servants and elected officials must abide by laws and the expectation their operations are open to taxpayer scrutiny as a form of oversight.

    I do not accept that those providing government services shouldn’t be held accountable for not fulfilling their responsibilities. Taxpayers should not be held hostage to civil servants who don’t want to be called out for their dereliction of duty, let alone their cover-up of said dereliction.

    Like

  3. John, I sympathize with your points, but suspect that this is really a case of workplace priorities. Ms. Bush probably has more to do than hours to do it in and if something like posting the minutes of a meeting in which the public seems to have limited interest isn’t done promptly, then it tends to fade into the background. Then, when someone like yourself brings this to light, it becomes an embarrassment. The greater issue is really what the board is going to do with your group’s ethics proposal. Right now, it seems like the Ethics Board is hoping that it will quietly go away.

    Like

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