Meg Kelly and Peter Martin Name Deputies

Newly elected mayor Meg Kelly has named Lisa Shields, 58,  to be her deputy.  Ms. Shields currently serves as the executive assistant to Mayor Yepsen.  Ms. Shields earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from SUNY Potsdam.  She moved to California following graduation and worked for Hewlett-Packard.  Since returning to New York she has worked for the Saratoga Springs United Methodist Church, Mannix Marketing in Glens Falls, and the Saratoga Children’s Theater founded by Ms. Kelly.  Ms. Shields is married to Dan Shields and they have three children. 

Newly elected Commissioner of Public Safety Peter Martin has named John S. Daley to be his deputy.  Mr. Daley came to the city after serving as director of the New York State Senate Committee on Consumer Protection.  He has been serving as a part time law clerk in the Public Safety Department.  Mr. Daley, who is 28, holds a bachelors degree in finance from Siena College, a masters in business administration from Union College, and a degree from Albany Law School.

The people who have followed the charter campaign may recall that one of the criticisms charter supporters leveled at the commission form of government was that they claimed the deputies were all just political appointees without professional credentials or experience.  They also asserted that deputies got their jobs primarily by working on their boss’s campaigns.  I don’t know if these new deputies worked on their boss’s campaigns but similar to the other deputies currently serving here in the city, it is apparent that they are highly qualified for their jobs.

 

Kudos to the Gazette

An overdue salute to the Gazette for correcting an error in a recent editorial.  On November 16 Mark Mahoney took Commissioners Madigan, Franck, and Scirocco to task for allegedly not inviting  Mayor Yepsen and Commissioner Mathiesen to a special City Council meeting where an attorney was hired to observe the absentee ballot count of the charter votes. In fact Mayor Yepsen’s office had sent out the meeting notice so it was patently untrue that she was not notified as the editorial indignantly stated. 

To the paper’s credit  when the email that the Mayor sent out was brought to editor Judy Patrick’s attention she promised further investigation.  The result was an article by Stephen Williams with the opening line “Mayor Joanne Yepsen knew about last Monday’s special City Council meeting”. This was reiterated in a later article by Ann Friedman that cited the Mayor’s original claim and her later reversal.

In this age of fake news it is important to recognize these efforts by the Gazette to set the record straight.

 

Post Election Drama and Excess Continues

The campaign by the leadership of the Charter Review Commission and “It’s Time Saratoga!” in all its dubious forms has continued into the absentee ballot count and beyond.

Lawyer?  We Don’t Need No Stinking Lawyer

Immediately following the November 7th election which had the charter change proposal ahead by 48 votes but with absentee ballots yet to be counted, Gordon Boyd, the former Charter Commission treasurer and a regular spokesman for both the CRC and “It’s Time Saratoga!”,  posted on the “It’s Time Saratoga!” Facebook page a call for donations to hire a lawyer to represent them “….to prevent any suspect practices from stealing votes from us.”  [JK: Does Mr. Boyd really believe that there is a threat of stolen votes ala Tammany Hall?]

At a special meeting on November 13 the City Council voted to hire a lawyer to monitor the absentee ballot count.  While I had my doubts about the value of the city having a lawyer monitor the count, the charge to  the lawyer was very limited.  The attorney was to initiate no action regarding the ballot count.  He was to simply observe and record the process.  Commissioner John Franck advocated for this on the basis that it appeared  that the city could potentially be the target of a lawsuit and so the city needed to be properly prepared should there be litigation.  In light of Mr. Boyd’s public statements suggesting Mr. Franck might somehow be responsible for the failure of approximately 400 voters to turn over the ballot and vote on the charter, Commissioner Franck’s concern did not appear to be unreasonable.  And of course  Mr. Boyd’s initiation of fundraising to hire a lawyer only added credibility to the concern that the city might be facing some kind of legal action from charter change supporters.

At the City Council meeting at which the Council voted to retain counsel, charter change supporters filled the chamber and noisily objected to the city hiring a lawyer.  The thing is  Mayor Yepsen, who supported charter change had gone down to the County Board of Elections the morning following the election with Tony Izzo, the city’s Assistant Attorney, Gordon Boyd, and former Charter Commission Chairman Bob Turner.  I would argue that neither the action of the Mayor in using the city Attorney to assist charter supporters nor that of the Council to hire an attorney since the city attorneys could not be used in this case was improper.  One might question the value of both of these decisions, but the level of outrage and anger expressed at the Council meeting by the charter supporters (the TU described them as “raucous”) seemed excessive but not inconsistent with the overheated nature of their campaign.

We’re the good guys!

In the November 13 edition of the Saratogian, “It’s Time Saratoga!” representative Rick Fenton announced that they would now not be hiring an attorney. Mr. Fenton told the paper they planned to return any donations received for legal expenses “…and more importantly we plan on following the law” not so subtly implying that the City Council had somehow acted illegally.  Pardon me for being snarky but Mr. Fenton had already acknowledged his group had no legal standing in the absentee ballot counting process making his group hiring a lawyer pointless.

In articles in both the Times Union and in the same Saratogian article, Bob Turner, the former chair of the CRC, opined on how much he trusted the Saratoga County Board of Elections to do their job negating any need for an attorney.  “It [the Board of Elections] is a bipartisan institution that is mandated by law and their oath to conduct the elections according to law.  I do not understand why the three city councilors don’t trust the Board of Election to handle the counting of absentee ballots.”

So after all these grand statements about trust in the Board of Elections and about how needless hiring an attorney would be, what happened on the day the absentee ballots were to be unsealed and counted?  Gordon Boyd showed up at the Board of Elections for the absentee ballot count accompanied by attorney Josh Erhlich.  In fact, Erhlich had been hired on November 10, three days before Fenton and Turner were quoted in the newspaper.  What happened to all that trust in the Board of Elections commissioners and in the pointlessness of having an attorney?

I don’t have a problem with Boyd et al hiring a lawyer but why not be straightforward and honest with the public?  I do not think it is unfair to characterize their dubious protestations as a cheap stunt meant to embarrass the city Commissioners who voted for the city to hire a lawyer.  These people seem to thrive on the melodrama they create.

So you knew this was coming

On Thanksgiving day, Gordon Boyd sent out an email addressed to “Friends.”  I am not sure who is on his email list.  He also uses “we” rather than” “I” throughout.  Who “we” is was unclear in the email but we now know that he was referring to himself, Bob Turner, and former CRC Vice Chair Pat Kane.

In any case he announced that “we” would be going to court the next day (11/24) to, in effect, ask a judge to order a recount of the ballots cast in the charter referendum.

In the email he wrote:

Apart from the various challenges to paper ballots that will be reviewed, there are a couple of principal concerns that we believe can be addressed only with the supervision of the court, requiring, basically, a hand recount of all ballots.

Note that he argues that their concerns “we believe can be addressed only with the supervision of the court…”  So much again for all the protestations about trusting the local Board of Elections to handle the vote count. A hearing has been set for December 20.

There will be chaos!

To further contribute to the post election drama Pat Kane warned that the advocates will not be waiting another ten years to get the city to adopt their charter [JK: I am sure we are all looking forward to another ugly and protracted campaign in the near future if their loss this time is sustained].  He then offered:  “”The way the city behaved, I think people are going to be taking to the streets.”

Well, so far I have not seen any broken windows downtown and the city has been noticeably free of tear gas.  This effort to raise to operatic levels the controversy this city is facing and to portray those who oppose charter change as the bureaucratic equivalent of the Soviet polit bureau is an extension of their overwrought campaign.  Did Pat Kane really think that the public level of outrage over a campaign for charter change might lead to street actions?

Along the same lines, Mr. Boyd offered:

“The charter proposal was the people’s campaign.   We had against us leaders of both major parties and the government of Saratoga Springs. And we got it to a draw.”

Here again we have stunning hyperbole and actually a misrepresentation of the facts  It is not exactly clear which “leaders” he refers to but there is no missing the drama.  The Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee never took a position on the charter nor did the Republican Committee.  Neither of the chairs of the Democratic or Republican parties took a public stand on the issue.  While two Democratic and one Republican Commissioner opposed the charter, the Democratic Mayor and the third Democratic Commissioner aggressively supported it.  That doesn’t sound to me like an overwhelming united political phalanx facing off against the people of our city.

A Quiet Voice

Richard Sellers, spokesman for SUCCESS, the organization formed in support of the commission form of government that opposed charter change, was quite a contrast to all this post election sturm und drang.  It is consistent with Mr. Sellers’ behavior throughout this conflict.  He has been a quiet measured voice.

The same Times Union article on the counting of the absentee ballots reported:

“Richard Sellers, a spokesman for SUCCESS, a group that opposed change, who attended the vote count, said that he is fairly optimistic about the proposal’s defeat, but until all the ballots are in and recounted, he will not be celebrating.”

“’I didn’t see any grounds to challenge any of the ballots,’ Sellers said. ‘The count was extremely well-done, respectful. There was nothing shocking or surprising. But like my favorite philosopher Yogi Berra said, ‘It ain’t over til it’s over.'”

One can only imagine how Mr. Turner, Mr. Kane, and Mr. Boyd would have behaved had the absentee count put them over the top.  I expect it would have been “a people’s victory!”  Can you have a people’s victory when you win by a handful of votes?  I expect that for Mr. Turner, Mr. Kane, and Mr. Boyd, you most certainly can.

 

Charter Supporters Go To Court

On Thanksgiving Day Gordon Boyd, former treasurer of the Charter review Commission, sent out an email addressed to “Dear Friends”. The email announced that “Tomorrow, Friday November 24 we will go to court to request an Order to impound all ballots and voting materials used in…the referendum for the city charter…” It is not clear who exactly is taking this action. Mr. Boyd only refers to his “colleagues” and regularly uses the indefinite term “we”.

In addition to the court action he writes that a FOIL for what are basically all documents associated with the election including copies of the ballots has been submitted to the Saratoga County Board of Elections.

The following is an excerpt from the letter:

“Tomorrow, Friday November 24, we will go to court to request an Order to impound all ballots and voting materials used in the General Election and referendum for the City Charter, and directing a review of the canvassing of ballots and the operations of the voting machines.  If the court grants our motion, the Order will allow us to review every vote that was cast and to make sure that the counting has been accurate.”

There is a lot to chew on in what is a fairly long email and I will be posting a more detailed analysis tomorrow.

City Center Issues Release Documenting That The Owners Of The Mouzon House Had Agreed To The City Center Parking Facility

Interesting article from the November 7th edition of the Saratogian regarding the on-going conflict between the Pedinottis who own the Mouzon House and the City Center over the City Center’s plans to build a parking facility. This is a link to the story: http://www.saratogian.com/article/ST/20171107/NEWS/171109832

Apparently the City Center is going on the public relations offensive.  According to the Saratogian the Center issued a release:

“The release said before the Pedinottis purchased the parcel, they were informed by the city the other parcel would be used to develop an adjacent parking lot.

In late 2004, the lawyer for the Pedinottis told the then-City Council his clients understood fully the plans for a parking lot south of their sight in the future, the release said.”

“The release said minutes from a Jan. 12, 2005 city Planning Board meeting stated: “The board noted that it is likely that the adjacent public parking lot will be redeveloped and that there could be a large building constructed which [would] block the sun to this property. The Pedinotti’s lawyer said that the applicant is aware of this possibility and will not oppose such efforts to redevelop the property.”

The Pedinottis have an on-going suit that challenges the city’s revision of its ordinances that would allow buildings downtown to block the sun of adjacent buildings.

Dianne Pedinotti responded to the release with the following statement:

“What the City Center press release fails to recognize is the fact that we support good, responsible development of the most valuable and last remaining lots in our urban core. We have supported developers that have proposed good designs that incorporate first-floor retail, incubator space, workforce housing as well as parking for the City Center,” said the co-owner of the Mouzon House. “The designs presented would bring people, business and parking to our urban core as well as revenue to our city. The current standalone garage would lose money for at least the first five years. The design houses cars and only cars and, in this day and age of Uber and Lyft and self-driving cars, will be obsolete before it is finished.”

 

Ballot Count Update

Today, Monday, November 20, was the deadline for receiving military ballots for the November 7 election at the Board of Elections.  None were received leaving the election results where they were last week after the absentee ballots were counted. The charter change proposal remains defeated by ten votes. Some charter change supporters indicated last week that they may consider asking for a manual recount of all the ballots. I do not know if they are still considering this. I will post any new information as it becomes available.

Charter Commission “In Depth Study”? I Don’t Think So!

Weeks ago I FOILed the Charter Review Commission for materials related to the alleged “in depth” study that they supposedly did of municipalities with city manager governments.  This study you may recall was repeatedly cited especially by Jeff Altamari as the evidence for the Charter Commission’s claim that no staff would be needed in the new government to do the work of the four commissioners and five deputies that were to be eliminated in the proposed charter. The elimination of these positions was the basis for the savings they promised would come with charter change.

On Friday night, November 10th, three days after the election, I received the response to my FOIL. Three to four inches of documents were hand delivered to my door by Ann Bullock who was the secretary of the Charter Review Commission.

As a veteran of FOIL requests it has been my experience that there are two tactics employed by institutions that are hostile to such requests.  The first is to simply deny that any relevant documents exist.  The second is to overwhelm those requesting the documents with loads of items no matter how remotely relevant.

In the case of Ms. Bullock I am willing to believe that the volume of documents she delivered was probably a zealous approach to transparency.

To be fair, it is better to err on the side of transparency and I will accept that they have sent me everything remotely related to my request.

JohnAndStudyTape

JohnAndStudyDogs
Clyde, Miss Kate, and blogger discuss the documents.

The documents can be roughly broken down as follows:

  1. Some notes of a meeting that apparently occurred on May 17th that involved the International City/County Management Association.  This is the organization that donated $15,000.00 to “It’s Time Saratoga!”.  There is nothing in the document to indicate where this meeting took place (perhaps it was a conference call?)or who participated.    In fact, the notes consist simply of a list of cities/towns.
  2. A handwritten page with the date June 6, 2017, with the heading “Auburn” . Below the heading is a list of what appears to be departments.  Much of the document is roughly written and difficult to read.
  3. A spreadsheet like columnar report listing cities and towns with some related attributes.
  4. A huge dump of web pages from fourteen cities/towns.

There were no pages of narrative, no analysis of the data, no discussion of conclusions, no explanation of methodology. These documents consisted of raw data, some of which  might possibly be useful in a staffing study, but there was no study as such included in the many sheets of paper that were delivered .

As I understand it from viewing meetings of the CRC, the “study” was authored by Jeff Altamari.  As noted in other posts, Mr. Altamari is a Certified Public Accountant whose most recent career before retiring was working as an executive for the oil and gas industry in Texas.

The CRC relied on his work, including this “study” in accepting the financial impact study of the proposed charter he authored.  Interestingly, the CRC simply took his word for both the thoroughness of his study and its conclusions.  The “study” itself was never presented to the CRC.

At the risk of appearing snarky, my idea of an “in-depth” study is very different from Mr. Altamari’s.  I would think that providing the standards for the study would be paramount.  Central to this would be a discussion of methodology used.  How were the municipalities chosen? In what way were the municipalities comparable to Saratoga Springs?  Given the unique attributes and success of our city this would be quite difficult.  Just for instance Saratoga Springs has many more miles of roads to patrol and maintain than Watertown, New York, and of course more significantly we are a major resort destination.  All of this and more put unique demands on the city and impacts our staffing needs. A study that would try to look at municipalities with city managers to determine what Saratoga Springs’ staffing needs would be under a different form of government would require some sort of detailed discussion about the deviations in character between municipalities and how these differences affected the conclusions.

In defense of the CRC, given their meager resources, doing a rigorous authentic study was simply not possible.  One thing is certain, though, I would never have boasted, as Mr. Altamari did in a letter to the Saratogian and on Look TV, that what he produced was  an “in-depth” study.  This kind of hype has been the problem with the leadership of the CRC and with their advocacy group, “It’s Time Saratoga!” all along.   They repeatedly grossly exaggerated both the data supporting their proposal and the problems with the commission form of government.

One thing is unequivocally clear.  The enigmatic notes and the undisciplined nature of the web document dump make any serious assessment of the “study“ itself impossible.

The Selection Process

Comparing the handwritten notes from what I assume was a telephone conference call involving the International City/County Manager Association [see heading of doc] with the web dump and the tabular list it appears that the ICMA was the source of the municipality selection.

ICMANotes1
Meeting Notes Page #1
ICMANotes2
Meeting Notes Page #2
AuburnNotes
Something To Do With The City Of Auburn

Clearly the word cryptic does not begin to describe the documents I received.  In this case there is nothing to indicate what criteria were used to select the municipalities.  Given that the ICMA provided the bulk of moneys to the local advocacy group, “It’s Time Saratoga!” for its campaign to pass the charter, one suspects that the selection was based on providing the most favorable picture of city manager run municipalities.  Mr. Altamari might have included some discussion of this issue in his “study” in order to protect its credibility.

The Web Dump

As best as I can tell, Mr. Altamari was looking for documentation on the management staffing of the municipalities.  Interestingly, in his letter to the editor on October 10 he said he focused on thirteen municipalities but there were fourteen municipalities included in the dump.

There were, to say the least, many pages with no apparent value as regards the staffing of the municipalities.

The following are a few examples:

SummitPoliceChief
Portrait of the Police Chief of Summit County
SummitFAQ2
Helpful answers for the residents of Summit, New Jersey such as the rules for their dog park.

 

Analysis?

This is the only document with any kind coherency.  For whatever reason there are thirteen municipalities analyzed but the dump included a fourteenth, Montpelier, Vermont.

atamariSpreadsheet2
What you see is what I got. Some sort of attempt at analysis.

DOCUMENT

The only thing these thirteen municipalities all seem to share is that they have strong Moody’s bond ratings.

They also seem to have very lean management structures.  Six have assistant city managers.  I am not sure what the parenthesis number beside the assistant manager means.  There was no annotation.

One of the problems with trying to do an analysis with this kind of limited data is that there is no information about the staffing below the manager level in these cities.  The CRC chose not to interview Saratoga’s deputies so they had no information on what their duties currently are.  In order to do a proper comparison, they would have needed to know what functions our deputies performed and then what staff handled these duties in these other municipalities.

For example, in our current commission form of government the deputy Commissioner of Finance plays a major role in crafting the city’s  annual budget.   This is a huge undertaking.   The city’s Director of Finance has a full time position handling the day to day operation of maintaining the city’s financial records and would not be able to pick up this work.  We do not know who in these other municipalities perform  these duties.   Similarly, the CRC did not know what the deputy for the Department of Public Works does.  While a municipality may not have a deputy, the duties done by our deputy may be done by someone in another fulltime position in these municipalities. Again as stated above, none of this takes into account that the size and responsibilities of a public works department may vary significantly given a city’s other attributes making staffing comparisons challenging to say the least.

There are also the obvious differences between a number of these municipalities given the fact that some of these are in other states.  For example, consider that in Massachusetts the state operates the department of social services whereas in New York these are operated by the counties.  This means that the cost of county operations in Massachusetts would be significantly less than the costs for New York counties.  This is an extreme example, but we simply do not know how to assess the costs of local municipalities because we do not know what services are handled or not handled by the state government.  This greatly complicates any comparison with municipalities outside of New York.  Yet nine of the thirteen municipalities compared here are from other states.

There are also the major differences in populations and budgets between our city and those in the list.  Our city has an operational budget of approximately $45 million.  Lexington, Massachusetts and Needham, Massachusetts have $186 million and $185 million dollar budgets respectively.

My Conclusion

While if it were properly documented and analyzed, this data might have offered some insight into the requirements of management staffing, to call this an “in-depth” study on which to make a decision on how to structure our own government seems manifestly inadequate.  Given Mr. Altamari’s strong credentials, it is hard to imagine that he would ask the CEO of a company he might work for to make a major decision to completely restructure the organization based up this kind of research.