County Denies Second FOIL For Ballot Images: Turner Channels Trump

Robert “Bob” Turner is a professor of political science at Skidmore College.  He was also the chair of the city’s previous Charter Review Commission.

In an era in which facts are treated with careless indifference and in which spin and hyperbole have replaced measured pronouncements, it is especially dismaying to read Professor Turner’s remarks to area newspapers. His most recent misstatements came after his second FOIL request for images of  the ballots cast in  last November’s charter vote was rejected.

In recent editions of the Gazette, the Saratogian, and the  Times Union newspapers Professor Turner makes reckless attacks on the two Saratoga County Election Commissioners. Rather than  enhancing public dialogue and providing insight into an important issue, he presents erroneous information and creates a poisonous  atmosphere that is not helpful in trying  to understand the controversy.

Professor Turner wrongly accuses the Commissioners of the Board of Elections William Fruci (Democrat) and Roger Scheira (Republican) of obstructing his FOIL request. He is quoted in the Saratogian as saying, “By refusing to follow the Court’s decision in Kosmider, the Republican and Democratic appointed Commissioners of Elections, Roger Scheira and William Fruci, are undermining the public’s confidence in the integrity of the electoral process.”  He told the Gazette, “…I’m not going to let a couple of local political appointees deny the public what’s theirs.” And “The Republican and Democratic county election commissioners can’t even bother to articulate some sort of rationale and reason that the ballots shouldn’t be open to the public.”

The problem is that neither of these men had anything to do with the denial of  Turner’s  FOIL request.A simple question to put to  Turner would be, exactly what evidence did he have that it was the Election Commissioners who thwarted him? The only document he possesses is a letter signed by the county’s FOIL officer denying his FOIL request.

After reading Professor Turner’s comments I called Bill Fruci, the Democratic Election Commissioner, whom I have known for decades and asked him about his role in this controversy.  He explained to me that he was never consulted regarding Professor Turner’s FOIL request.

This was hardly a surprise.  Decisions regarding FOIL requests are decided by an institution’s FOIL officer.  The FOIL officer is required to make a determination by testing the request against a set of legal standards of what is accessible.  My experience leads me to believe that in addition to the county’s FOIL officer, the decision was probably made by the County Attorney, James Dorsey.  I emphasize probably because I have no way of confirming my suspicions.  

Then there is the problem of  Turner’s operatic characterization of the controversy.

 Professor Turner asserts that the denial of his FOIL undermines “…the public’s confidence in the integrity of the electoral process.”  In a statement reminiscent of a certain President he asks, “Why not show the public the ballots?  If the election was run properly, there is nothing to hide.” 

 So Professor Turner not too subtly suggests to the readers of the newspapers that there has been some sort of conspiracy (organized by the two Elections Commissioners) to subvert the election.

 Can Professor Turner really be serious?  Remember, when he thought his Commission’s charter would prevail and that the City Council was trying to somehow block the process, he was quoted in the area papers lauding the virtues of the Board of Elections.

 In fact, I for one do not believe that our democracy is put into jeopardy by Professor Turner’s recent FOIL denial.  The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division Third Judicial Department has recently ruled that digital ballots are FOILable.  The decision is under appeal.  I am cautiously optimistic that the New York State Court of Appeals will support the lower court decision and resolve the matter.  

 The denial of Professor Turner’s FOIL is hardly the threat he would have us believe.  Our democracy is threatened.  Dark money, suppression of voters, and gerrymandering are real threats that deserve our alarm not the denial of Dr. Turner’s FOIL.

I can tell you from experience that no matter what the FOIL request is, the inclination of institutions is to deny requests if the standards make that at all possible.  I  myself have had the experience of having FOIL requests  I thought were unfairly denied but lacking the money to challenge the decisions in court had to simply accept the decisions.

I actually agree with Professor Turner that the public should have access to the electronic images of the ballots he requested.  Where I strenuously part company with him is on who was responsible and where he should have directed his gratuitous criticism and on the magnitude of the impact his FOIL denial will have on our democracy.

In spite of his profession as a political scientist, Professor Turner has a history of not being burdened by the need for proof when he talks to the area papers. Professor Turner has wrongly  publically pilloried Mr. Fruci and Mr. Scheira.  He owes them an apology.

21 thoughts on “County Denies Second FOIL For Ballot Images: Turner Channels Trump”

  1. It is the antithesis of an academic to take himself so unerring and profess his judgements for absolute truth, that his denial of reality is its own form of hubris; no less than Icarus. Disgruntlement is a dish of unripe grapes that are most sour when served cold.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jim: So you are saying that the Commandant Turner is a fan of perpetual sour grapes. I agree, and I don’t even know if disgruntlement is a word, but it sounds appropriate when used to describe him.


      1. Disgruntlement /dis’ grunt(ê)lm(ê)nt/ NOUN – is the condition of being dissatisfied, annoyed with one’s situation or with a three-peat loss for charter change, resulting in dejection, depression and the odor of despondency after having vilified good elected accountable people doing their jobs with a shoddy shotgun approach to charter review.

        ‘the election results pointed to widespread disgruntlement by local anarchists’

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I was for charter change, simply because I recognize a need to separate the legislative and administrative duties and give everyone a fair chance to hold office. That said, while I am not a fan of the theatrics of the charter change group (nor his charter-related comments towards the council during the bike trail hearing), I DO agree with them that those images SHOULD be given via FOIL to ANYONE requesting them. That should be EVERYONE’S right.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Everyone has always had a fair chance to run for city office. If one wishes to sit on an elected unaccountable commission, there’s always the school board. On separation of powers, like the 98-year-old oranization that just now professes to support that notion, it can be said, that our commissioners and their appointed deputies can be elected, reelected or rejected. Like so much venom that was discharged by the usual suspects, disparaging the wrong people, marginalizing our professional staff, claiming that “no one runs for office”, that “people get lost in city hall” and that our deputy commissioners are unprofessional; simply points to a manic disgruntlement and an inability to engage in cooperative dialogues of mutual respect to effect changes.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. James,
        Re: “Everyone has always had a fair chance to run for city office. ”

        You couldn’t be more wrong if you tried. Most simply can’t afford to do it. That’s a BIIIG problem. I agree 1000% with the League of Women Voters that we have to separate administrative and legislative duties, but I believe we can also do it within a commission form of government too. And I supported charter change, although I was never really sold on HOW to do it. We’ll have to see what this commission comes up with however. But without a doubt, the average working guy can NOT afford to run for office here.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. It’s odd then, that since 1915, running for office has never been the problem, that has been trumpeted most recently by the separatists. We’ve had people from all walks of life throw their hats into the ring. The loudest to criticize are generally those who were not successful. I’ve witnessed over 20 cycles of elections and have seen well seated incumbents defeated with very little effort and manpower. It is untrue that people cannot afford to run. The larger deception with this thrice unsuccessful initiative is the resident would be better served by an unaccountable elected commission than with one that is accountable to an electorate. You should take some time to attend the Charter Review Meetings, held twice monthly. I think you might be impressed with the quality of the discussions and the expertise demonstrated by our Commissioners and their Deputies.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. dmorris12014: I would say, that it would take someone that is above average to run for office. Many people, homeless and otherwise have succeeded beyond the imaginations of most average people (Google that) all across our nation. Moreover, our own elected officials span the arc of financial wherewithal. To paraphrase one of our great statesmen, “Some men see thing as they are and say no way. Others dream and say, why not.” Personally, I think it takes some time to live in and, if so fortunate, raise one’s family in Saratoga Springs, before declaring opposition to the workings of our fair city. It has been my experience, that over the last 12 years, many people who are relative newcomers choose to engage in a populous moment, for many reasons but perhaps because they had been denied such access to their elected officials in their past lives. The loudest voices are the ones that have never introduced themselves to their elected officials and with respect, strive to work with them regardless of political stripes.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. James,

        Well, I’ve been here almost 60 years now. I think most at this point would consider me ‘above average’ politically speaking anyway. And there was NO WAY I could have ever ran for office back then because I was working 2-3 jobs to keep a roof above my family’s head. I can assure you I am NOT alone in doing so either.

        Now, if it’s a ‘typical’ government, that isn’t a problem as it’s just a few hours a week since you don’t have to run an entire department. To do that, you need to at LEAST recoup all of the money lost from your main (or other) job. And those positions don’t pay enough to do that.

        It’s only one of the reasons why however. Separation of legislative and administrative should be a MUST in ANY form of government because it can be abused very easily. We’ve been lucky for the most part, but just because you have good people in office doesn’t mean the system isn’t flawed, because it positively is. We can avoid another ‘charter change debacle’ if we simply separate the two aspects. If they don’t, I fully expect to see charter change on the ballot again and YES I will support it if for any reason, because of these main issues.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Very good analysis of this issue! 

    Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

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  4. dmorris12084:2. Public office is not for everyone. In my time, we have had a myriad of successful candidates, from teachers, a librarian, merchants, lawyers and other licensed individuals, civil servants, etc., that threw their hats into the ring, because they wanted to make a difference. They did so willingly without coercion. Their professional deputy commissioners are full time positions and they are the “officers on deck” who run the departments day to day. My mention of “above average” referred to the sort of individual who is level headed, non-confrontational, optimistic and willing to work with the entire city electorate to improve our city. I wish I could agree with you, but I can appreciate the hard work these individuals undertake, and I like the way our government works … and it certainly has much to show for it. Enjoy your summer.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. James,

      Yes, we will disagree. I’ll even disagree to an extent that all of the growth we have had here is ‘good’ for the city. While I agree that our state politics are a mess here, the vast majority of that comes from party-based politics rather than people-based politics. That has no bearing whatsoever on a commission form of government. In NO WAY do I believe that it is better than other forms of government this country has and utilizes well, while the commission form of government has virtually disappeared from the face of the earth.

      I don’t know about you, but I grew up here as well. This used to be a pretty laid back city that exploded for a month in the summer – blue collar all the way. Even back in the 70’s everyone knew everybody. It’s MUCH different than that now. I walk down B’way now and see no one that I know, as many have moved away for the simple fact that they couldn’t afford to live here anymore. While we’ve gained a lot of new people here in the past 20 or so years or so we’ve also lost wayyyy too many people that were and still are the very core of our city’s heart. We’ve destroyed that aspect. We sold out a large part of our heart for the $$$. I’m looking to move away from here now, something I NEVER thought I would even think of, let alone do. We’ve lost that ‘community’ feel here now. I’m watching our city ‘grow’, but I’m watching the impacts of that growth too and I don’t like what I see. A ‘community’ that is more inclined to save land to have a place to hike or bike in rather than allow some hard working citizen a home? Really? I’m not so show I’d like to ‘mimic’ that at all. IMHO? It’s exactly everything this country is NOT supposed to be about.

      But all of that aside, why do you think the League of Women Voters spoke out on the separation of administrative and legislative duties? There is a specific reason for this. And it is FACT: it makes it harder for the average person to run for office, and opens itself up too easily for corruption. That’s why it has basically disappeared in our country. That can’t be discounted.

      If we don’t have a split between administrative and legislative, we WILL have the charter fight rolled out again and I will support and work on it myself if necessary if I see another ‘sh*t show’ like we had last time around were it became more about personal vendettas than what was right for the city itself.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dave—I think it is important to acknowledge that “separation of administrative and legislative” is not a “must” (as you put it) for most democracies in the world nor for school boards nor for county government.

    I think it is also important to acknowledge that there are problems with having separate legislative and administrative branches as we do in our national and state governments here in the US. One has only to look at the gridlock in Albany and Washington to see the flaws in this system not to mention the ability for minority interests to block the will of the majority through the system we like to benignly call “checks and balances.”

    While no system is perfect I think democracy is better served by leaving the ultimate check in the hands of the voters as in our commission form of government. If we don’t like how a department is being run we know exactly who is accountable and have the opportunity every two years to replace that person. No finger pointing as on the federal level where endless debates go on about who is actually accountable for policies. Is it the President? Well, sort of but maybe not really. Maybe it’s the Senate that didn’t pass a bill for him/her to sign. Or the House of Representatives that couldn’t override a veto. And on and on.

    In my mind our national and New York State governments are not functioning so fantastically that I would rush to mimic them here in Saratoga Springs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I basically explained all of this to James, so there isn’t a need to re-hash it all again. But please riddle me this: if the commission form of government is so spectacular, why is there only three communities left utilizing it today? Why did all of those other townships and cities change from it?

      That said, I’m OK with a hybrid form of which creates the separation. I DO prefer the best of 5 vote rather than giving one person more power over the others. But that separation is a MUST. The LoWV is absolutely right on that one.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. dmorris12140 –
    Answer to your riddle: The 99% reason most all those “other cities” changed from the council form of government was the size of their community and a desire for economic renewal. Our now defunct charter change commission spent a great deal of time trying to find a comparable city, but unfortunately for them, the differences were always in the details. Watertown, their favorite was brought out twice to suggest that community as our sister city with its professional manager. It turns out there is very little that is similar between our city and theirs. Incidentally, their city manager was fired this year, the second time for that city for that position in 5 years and their city commissioners are now considering a return to a council management. Your mentors always told you that outside peer pressure is never a reason to do something. Most all those other cities would welcome our municipality and its form of government.

    I think your separation angst was best answered by straight shooter. The organization you defend, did come out with their opinion this time around after 90 years of silence, but they also advocate for banning outside money to influence elections, yet stayed silent when their minions accepted PAC money to interfere with our local election. By not reviewing the current charter in their promotional campaign for change, they also erred on the side of voter suppression, another one of their talking points. If they were truly a league of informed voters, they would have been more inclusive and transparent.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Dave—I don’t know the specifics of why each particular locality might have changed from the commission form of government, but I do know that a lot of other what I would consider positive progressive reforms from that era (the Progressive Era usually considered to be the early 1900s in the US) are also rare or no longer exist. For instance unicameral state legislatures and the public ownership of utilities were also in existence during this period but are also either rare or non-existent now like the commission form of local government. Perhaps all these reforms are ideas that it might be beneficial to re-visit.

    P.S. you might also want to ask why the separation of legislative and administrative powers such as we find in the US and that you and the LWV are strong supporters of pretty much does not exist outside of the US.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Ironically, it appears some here think I know nothing about this ‘charter change’ stuff.


    I’ve heard both viewpoints as well. I read, listened and learned. This wasn’t any different in that regard. I’ll say it again: we need to separate the legislative and administrative duties for the aforementioned reasons. I know the history, and the history conclusively shows there are only three communities left that utilize the commision form of government. That happened for various reasons – the main one being that separation of powers.

    I’m not saying that our local government has done a bad job. I’m saying they can do a better one if they separate those powers, and let experts do the job instead. It also frees up time for the council to work on other matters for the city. And to clarify, I wasn’t ‘overly enthused’ about the structure brought forth by the charter change commision either. I think it can done as a hybrid. I was – and am all for Mayor Kelly ‘s calling of this commission because no one knows the inner workings of our local government better than those inside city hall, and they deserve a chance to see if they can please the majority of the voters with the changes they deem necessary. They all know where I stand on it as well. I also think this was a positive move on behalf of the mayor because the last thing this city needed was another 3-ring circus for the next year. If it what they are doing doesn’t go far enough to appease the voters? Well, we’ll be doing it all over once again. But hopefully cooler heads prevail (on BOTH sides of this argument), and we won’t have to go through all of the angst once again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dave: Well then there, we can agree that our mayor is doing a great job. She rocks! As an appointed deputy commissioner and now an elected mayor, it must seem ironic to some that all that is possible. Furthermore, after six months, no one has been reported lost in the halls of City Hall! Stay cool.

      Liked by 1 person

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