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.