I may very well have misunderstood John Franck regarding the role of a lawyer representing the city in the review of absentee ballots from the November 7th election. I had understood from him that the attorney the city was to hire was to defend against any absentee ballots being set aside. It is now my understanding that the city has no standing regarding the absentee ballots and that, according to Franck, the lawyer is simply going to be an observer.
For those of you following all the accusations flying around, it has been alleged by now former Charter Commission member Gordon Boyd (the Charter Commission officially ended at 9PM election night) that Franck somehow contributed to the fact that some voters did not turn the ballot over and vote on the charter. John Franck told me that in the event the charter fails he expects that there will be some kind of litigation regarding the charter vote. He told me that he believes that the city needs to be prepared to deal with such suits and having an attorney observe the process of counting the absentee ballots is part of this.
The decision to hire a lawyer was made at a special City Council meeting that was held at noon today, Monday. Mayor Yepsen issued a press release [see below] complaining about the calling of the special meeting to secure an attorney alleging that: “I only found out about the meeting by a member of the press. This is not how our city has done or should do business; this is not serving the whole constituency.”
This is utterly bizarre because the email announcing the meeting was sent out from her office on the previous Thursday over her name:
From: “Lisa Shields” <email@example.com> To: “Tony Izzo” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Lisa Shields” <email@example.com>, “Christian Mathiesen” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Christine Gillmett-Brown” <email@example.com>, “Donna Buckley” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Eileen Finneran” <email@example.com>, “frank coppola” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Joanne Yepsen” <email@example.com>, “John Franck” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “John Hirliman” <email@example.com>, “Kathy Lanfear” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Lindsey Connors” <email@example.com>, “Lisa Ribis” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Lisa Watkins” <email@example.com>, “Maire Masterson” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Marilyn Rivers” <email@example.com>, “Meg Kelly” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Michele Madigan” <email@example.com>, “Mike Sharp” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Miriam Dixon” <email@example.com>, “Skip Scirocco” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Stefanie Richards” <email@example.com>, “Trish Bush” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Vincent DeLeonardis” <email@example.com> Sent: Thursday, November 9, 2017 4:43:36 PM Subject: Special Council Meeting Monday November 13
On behalf of the Mayor: Commissioner Franck has called special city council meeting for Monday, November 13. So far, there has been a request for one agenda item. Please let me know if there other other items to add to your agendas before 5pm today.
Joanne Yepsen, Mayor
City Hall, Suite 9
474 Broadway Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
(518) 587-3550 x2520
I have to say I am skeptical of the value of having any attorney spend time watching the absentee ballots being opened.
It seems odd to me that Mayor Yepsen and the “It’s Time Saratoga!” folks carry on about paying for lawyers to be involved in this process. According to the Gazette, Mayor Yepsen went down to the Board of Elections the morning after the election with city Assistant Attorney Tony Izzo and former Charter Commission members Bob Turner and Gordon Boyd to explore the legal issues associated with the election and the subsequent processing of absentee ballots with the Democratic and Republican Commissioners of Election. As Mr. Izzo is on the clock, a city official (the Mayor) along with partisans who are for the charter seem to have already utilized an attorney at taxpayers’ expense. As we Jews say, Oy!
It is also ironic that Mayor Yepsen seems outraged about allegedly not being properly advised about the special Council meeting but sets up a conference call with a representative of the New York State Board of Elections with Commissioner Mathiesen and the city’s attorneys and does not invite the other members of the Council to attend and then reports on what happened not to them directly but only to the press.
On an entirely different track, Tara Gaston who was elected as a County Supervisor, has sent out a request for funds to pay for a lawyer to represent her at the absentee ballot count. I sent her an email asking if the attorney she was raising money for was to just represent her, the Democratic candidates, and/or the pro charter people. She wrote back saying it was only for her. It seems very odd given the margin of her win that she would spend money on a lawyer to participate in the opening of absentee ballots. No one is questioning her victory.
Gordon Boyd solicited moneys to hire a lawyer on the “It’s Time Saratoga!” website the day following the election.
It is my understanding that Gaston and Peter Martin will both be represented by attorney Jim Long.
Readers may pardon my suspicion that “It’s Time Saratoga!” may benefit from attorney Long’s role in reviewing the ballots.
I find all of this excessive and unpleasant. I leave it to the readers to decide for themselves who if any are the villains in this business.
The following are releases from Mayor Yepsen and from Commissioners Madigan and Franck
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
November 13, 2017
FROM THE OFFICE OF MAYOR JOANNE D. YEPSEN
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY. – Since Commissioner Franck’s announcement of scheduling a special council meeting to hire an outside law firm for the purposes of observing an absentee ballot count for the charter, many citizens have raised questions about what happens next and have voiced their concerns to me about making sure all citizens are represented fairly during this process. Many of these concerns are born from the inappropriate way the meeting was scheduled.
Unfortunately, our current charter allows for three council members to call a meeting without any notification to the full council. In the rare case that a special meeting is called, the normal protocol has been to reach out to the full council to ensure availability. Commissioner Franck, Commissioner Madigan and Commissioner Scirocco, the three Commissioners who have been very vocal against the new Charter proposal, and in favor of the group SUCCESS, chose not to include the Mayor or the Public Safety Commissioner in the scheduling process, both of us who are in favor of charter change. I only found out about the meeting by a member of the press. This is not how our city has done or should do business; this is not serving the whole constituency.
In order to respond to citizen concerns, I held a meeting on Friday to review the law and get answers. I invited Vince Deleonardis and Tony Izzo, our two city attorneys, Meg Kelly, my Deputy and Mayor-Elect, and Chris Mathiesen, Commissioner of Public Safety. I then called Brian Quail, NYS Board of Elections, and asked him to participate via speaker phone.
The response from Mr. Quail was that in his 17 years of experience, no legislative body has ever hired an attorney for this purpose, and he expressed that it’s probably unlawful. He clarified that according to NYS election law, groups such as It’s Time Saratoga, Success or a City Council have no interest or standing in the opening of the ballots. Only a candidate or an individual may hire an attorney to participate in the process of opening absentee ballots. Furthermore, on Wednesday, 11/8/17, the morning after election day, as Mayor I met with both the Republican and and Democratic Commissioners of Elections at County headquarters, William Frucci and Roger Schiera. I brought our Assistant City Attorney, Tony Izzo, who also acted as the City Charter Committee’s legal advisor, to make sure the City was well informed of the next steps in this process. As Mayor, I am charged with setting up a transition team within 60 days of election day in order to properly move our city forward into full conversion by 2020.
Commissioner Franck has stated in the media that hiring an outside attorney is about protecting the city’s and the voter’s best interest. If the Commissioners’ real intent were to protect the city, they would have contacted me and the Commissioner of Public Safety for our availability. It has the optics of being biased and people don’t like that.
The board of elections is already contracted by the taxpayers to protect the voters of Saratoga Springs. If each individual commissioner feels strongly about this they should use their own campaign funds or private money to hire an attorney, not the people’s money. This is a misuse of public dollars and unfair to the taxpayers.
CONTACT: Mayor Joanne Yepsen, 518-526-5272
For Immediate Release: November 13, 2017
From the Offices of Commissioner of Finance, Michele Madigan and Commissioner of Accounts, John Franck
Response to Mayor Joanne Yepsen regarding Charter Absentee Ballot Meeting by Three (3) City Commissioners
While we would prefer to have discussions and debates amongst City Council members occur transparently during City Council meetings, given the timeliness of the matter we thought a public response to Mayor Yespen’s statement released earlier today was appropriate.
On Thursday November 9, 2017, an email was sent by Mayor Yepsen’s Executive Assistant with the subject line “Special Council Meeting Monday November 13.” This email was sent to all City Council members, each of their deputies, and the City Attorney’s office, along with other City Hall employees. In the email it is explicitly stated that Commissioner Franck is calling a special City Council meeting on Monday November 13, and asking if any other City Council members have agenda items to add. This meeting, and the related document, was also posted on the internal web portal used by City Council members to prepare for every City Council meeting. The notion that Mayor Yepsen and Commissioner Mathiesen, or their staff, weren’t adequately alerted to this meeting or that the process differs drastically from prior Special City Council Meetings is factually incorrect, and shows either the blatant misinterpretation of actual events, or a failure to appropriately track City Council-related communications. I realize each City Council member is busy, both personally and professionally, but I don’t believe an iteration of “I missed that email” is an adequate response, especially with such an obviously titled email as “Special Council Meeting Monday November 13.”
Had Mayor Yepsen attended she would have heard that the actions taken today by the City Council members in attendance have nothing to do with each members stance on the proposed Charter. Instead, the actions taken today were to ensure that each and every ballot cast by a City resident is accounted for properly, no matter what their position, and that the results can be properly communicated to all City Council members and the City Attorney. The firm we have hired is not there to advocate or influence, but instead to oversee, and to ensure that any representatives in attendance don’t attempt to alter the count. We have absolute faith in the County Board of Elections, who have done a fantastic job over the years, and we see our actions today as providing support to their cause of a fair and legally appropriate election. Seeing this occur, no matter the outcome, is to the benefit of all City residents.
We take issue with the hypocrisy of Mayor Yepsen’s misguided frustration regarding a City Council meeting occurring without her, but then noting that she had a meeting with the City Attorney and Commissioner Mathiesen, followed by a call with a representative of the NYS Board of Elections. The first we heard of this meeting was today via her press statement and we are hearing details about it through the Mayor’s press release. Given that the Mayor’s meeting happened on Friday 11/10, this would have been useful information for a broader discussion with City Council members. I would also note that from what I’ve been told, Mayor Yepsen also met with Bob Turner and Gordon Boyd, former members of the Charter Review Commission, to discuss legal ramifications. Neither Commissioner Scirocco, Commissioner Franck, nor Commissioner Madigan (myself) have had any meetings with representatives from SUCCESS to determine legal strategy involving the absentee ballots. Additionally, in an attempt to clear up any misconceptions, the entire City Council, not singularly or not even Mayor Yepsen, will be tasked with appointing members to the Charter Transition Task Force should the proposal pass. While the Mayor’s Office is allowed more representatives than other Council members, any potential transition will be an team effort. Whatever the outcome, our hope is that for the remainder of Mayor Yepsen’s term, and for City Council’s going forward, we can engage in transparent, fact-based discussions, even when we might disagree on a given topic.
Commissioner Michele Madigan
Commissioner John Franck
Commissioner of Finance
City of Saratoga Springs
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
518-587-3550 ext. 2557