City Council To Consider Raising Salaries For Future Commissioners

On Tuesday September 3rd there will be a public hearing on a proposal to raise the salaries of future members of the Saratoga Springs City Council from the current $14,500.00 per year to $30,000.00 per year.  The salaries of the council members have not changed since 2001.  By my count that is some eighteen years without an increase.

In the August 27 edition of the Gazette Newspaper Mayor Meg Kelly discussed why she believes it is time for an increase. At the August 20 Council meeting the mayor told her colleagues:

“As we are entering the [2020] budget season, the time is right for a fair and reasonable discussion about these salaries, considering the duties, responsibilities, time commitment and the goal of attracting qualified, diverse candidates.”

Expanding on the issue of salaries she noted:

“Council members are supposed to be part-time,” Kelly said. “Consider what $14,500 per year means: At 20 hours per week, you get $13.94 per hour, at 30 hours a week you get $9.29 an hour, at 50 hours per week you get $5.58 per hour. Next year, New York state’s minimum wage will be $11.80 an hour.”

The reality is that the Commissioners and the Mayor work many more than twenty hours a week. In the case of Mayor Kelly it’s fair to say she works considerably more than forty hours a week.

I have done a rough, back of the envelope analysis of the increase.  After adding social security to the increase of $15,500.00 per council member, I estimate the cost for the increase would be $83,430.00.  Any attempt at computing the effect on taxes is problematic as revenues change and costs for running the city change.  Also, there are different tax rates in the outer and inner districts of the city.  Still, assuming that this was the only expense added to the previous tax rates, the increase would be roughly 2.6 cents per thousand.

So we are talking about a minuscule impact on the taxpayers.

If we want to attract good people to run for office we need to pay them a modest amount.

I would ask the readers of this blog, how much would you want to be paid per hour  just to sit through the City Council agenda meetings and general meetings twice a month?

I find it very frustrating listening to uninformed people sneer at public officials and dismiss their dedication.  If we treat them with disrespect, how can we expect good people to take on the burden of office?  Paying this modest increase is something they fully deserve.  I hope people will turn out to the hearing on Tuesday, September 3, 2019 and support the proposed increases.

Newly Reorganized Democratic Committee Revisits Endorsements

The Gazette Newspaper has an excellent story on the August 27 meeting of the recently reorganized Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee. The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss endorsements.

Kendall Hicks, who is running on the Democratic line for Commissioner of Public Safety, apparently chose not to seek the Committee’s  endorsement when it became clear that he would not receive it.

When asked by the Gazette reporter why the Committee did not endorse Hicks, newly elected Chairperson Sarah Burger declined to comment. Instead she emphasized the importance of a resolution passed by the Committee that supported the “MeToo” movement which advocates on behalf of women who have been victims of sexual harassment or violence.

Mr. Hicks has been the subject of controversy regarding a 2013 arrest for allegedly assaulting a woman.

Kendall Hicks’ name will still be on the Democratic line for Public Safety Commissioner in November.

The Committee also rescinded the previous Committee endorsement of Michele Madigan and endorsed Patricia Morrison for Finance Commissioner.

In a Times Union story Ms. Burger told the paper:

“The formation of the so-called ‘One Saratoga’ is a direct result of Commissioner Madigan’s Democratic primary loss and instead of stepping aside after the primary Commissioner Madigan is fighting hard for her lifetime health benefits,”

This kind of talk does not become a  chair of a political party. Commissioner Madigan has served the city for eight years at an annual salary of $14,500.00. The idea that Ms. Madigan would do this for ten years in order to get ongoing health insurance is simply not credible, especially if you know Commissioner Madigan.

It’s also worth noting that as a current and potentially future elected Democratic official, Ms. Madigan is someone who Ms. Burger, as Democratic Committee chair, will have to work with. Ms. Burger’s comments are a sad reminder of how the ugly and divisive tactics we are seeing on the national level have seeped into our local Saratoga politics.

Times Union Watch: A Tale Of Three Stories

Consider the headlines from three of the area’s newspapers following the recent decisions by the Saratoga Springs Ethics Board:

From the Gazette: Saratoga Springs Ethics Board Dismisses Complaints

From the Saratogian: “No Reasonable Cause”: Saratoga Springs Ethics Board Dismisses Complaints

From the Times Union: Saratoga Springs Democratic Primary Fallout Continues: [Sub heading] City news release criticizes candidate challenging incumbent finance commissioner

The Times Union story was written by Wendy Liberatore.  To belabor the obvious, where was the fact in the TU headline that the Ethics Board had dismissed the charges in the two complaints made against Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, Mayor Meg Kelly, Accounts Commissioner John Franck, Public Safety Commissioner Skip Scirocco, and Independence Party officers Eddy Miller and Joanne Foresta?

The fault really does not lie with the editor who created the headline because the headline accurately reflected Ms. Liberatore’s story.  Rather than focus on the embarrassing rejection by the Ethics Board of the allegations made by Patricia Morrison, Bill McTygue, and Ann Bullock, the story instead provided a platform for the three to attack Commissioner Madigan for a press release that was put up on the city’s website.

I have great sympathy for Commissioner Madigan.  She has been the relentless target of Patricia Morrison, Bill McTygue, and Ann Bullock along with their allies.  They have been all over social media as well as mainstream media with ugly accusations challenging Commissioner Madigan’s integrity and even accusing her of corruption.  Few of us could remain unaffected by being continually pilloried as Commissioner Madigan has been.

Unfortunately, Commissioner Madigan has often allowed her understandable anger to cloud her judgement in responding.   Her critics in turn have exploited her lapses by highlighting them at her expense.   They have had the added advantage of having a powerful ally at the Times Union in Wendy Liberatore.

Where Commissioner Madigan’s vindication by the Ethics Board should have resulted in public embarrassment for Morrison, McTygue, Bullock, et al, Commissioner Madigan showed the poor judgement of striking back at these people through a press release from the city on the city website.  This allowed the focus to be redirected to her by Ms. Liberatore.  The release included the following text:

The public has a right to expect a candidate for public office to know that it is legal for elected officials to accept campaign contributions,” Madigan said, “Morrison’s complaint sought not only to impugn my ethics and integrity, but to also damage the reputation of a highly respected community member with a long record of supporting local, state, and national campaigns from across the political spectrum.”

Much of Ms. Liberatore’s article, as the headline reflects, focused on the press release from the city website.  While it was legitimately newsworthy in the context of the Ethics Board’s decision, it was grossly heavy handed in its disproportionality.

Even worse was the additional transparent effort Ms. Liberatore made to downplay the significance of the Ethics Board’s decision and provide a platform for McTygue, Bullock, and Morrison to portray themselves as victims.

Stretching The Limits Of Credibility

According to the TU story:

McTygue said he was not surprised by the decision, but he is surprised that Madigan would link the two complaints.

”Let me be clear, the ethics complaint filed by Ann Bullock and me had nothing to do with the earlier and unrelated ethics complaint filed by Commissioner of Finance candidate Patty Morrison,” he said.  “It’s obvious that the city’s response and statement from Mayor Kelly and Finance Commissioner Madigan was meant to bundle these two unrelated issues to benefit their own political agenda by adding confusion to the issue.”

One does not have to follow local politics and personalities very closely to know that Ms. Morrison and Mr. McTygue are, or have been, quite close.  They are also members of a small group that, among other things, have been closely associated with the contentious battles leading to the mass resignations from the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee as well as the movement for a city manager form of government.  Does Bill McTygue really believe that anyone would take seriously the idea that the two complaints, made almost simultaneously by people with a close personal relationship and a shared history and interests,  are unrelated?

Even more odd is the idea that linking the two would “add confusion to the story,”  as Mr. McTygue asserts.  If any of the readers of this blog could assist me in understanding how linking these stories would confuse people, I would happily publish their insight.

Just as surprising is the fact that Ms. Liberatore would not only print McTygue’s  assertion that the complaints were unrelated but refer herself to the Morrison complaint as “the second unrelated complaint” as if this were not at least in dispute.  For all my criticisms of Ms. Liberatore, I cannot believe that she really thinks that Mr. McTygue was unaware that Ms. Morrison was considering an ethics complaint and vice versa.  I guess we are to believe that these two events were an extraordinary coincidence.

When Is An Ethics Complaint “Informal”?

Ms. Liberatore writes that Ms. Morrison’s charge against Commissioner Madigan “…was unofficial and made privately, while the second complaint (McTygue/Bullock) targeting the City Council members was public.”

I guess this distinction was meant to provide support to the narrative that the two complaints were “unrelated.”

Ms. Liberatore was kind enough to enter into a brief exchange over her idea that Ms. Morrison’s complaint was “unofficial.” A full text of our communications is attached below.

I pointed out first of all that neither Ms. Morrison nor McTygue/Bullock followed the proper procedure to submit their charges using the ethics complaint form.  I also quoted from Ms. Morrison’s letter that, while addressed to Commissioner Madigan, was copied to the Ethics Board.  In the letter Morrison writes:

“Additionally, by copy of this letter, I ask the Ethics Board to make a determination of fact as it relates to this issue.”

That does not sound “unofficial” to me.  I would think that a reasonable person reading that would consider it a formal request for action.  In fact, the Ethics Board took it as such and issued a subsequent determination.

Also, as I pointed out to Ms. Liberatore, I could find nothing in the Ethics Code that distinguishes types of complaints as “official” or “unofficial”.  You are either submitting a complaint or you are not.

A less flattering possibility is that rather than purposely pursuing some “unofficial” route, Ms. Morrison was simply unaware of what the proper  Ethics Board procedures were for submitting complaints.


Email Exchange Between Blogger and Liberatore


Aug 15, 2019  9:17 PM John Kaufmann To Wendy Liberatore

In your August 13 story on the Ethics Board decisions in Saratoga Springs, you state that Ms. Morrison’s complaint to the Ethics Board was “unofficial.”  I have reviewed the city’s ethics code and can find no distinction in it concerning the types of complaints.  Could you explain the difference between an official and an unofficial complaint?


Aug 15, 2019 9:43 PM, Wendy Liberatore <wliberatore3@gmail.com> wrote:

Read the letter from ethics board.

First paragraph. 

[This is the text she refers to.

“The inquiry came to the board’s attention by receipt of a copy of a June 14 letter you sent to a City Council member.  It concerns the campaign fundraising activities of that elected official.  The inquiry is not submitted by way of the usual inquiry form, but the Board will not delay its review of the matter because of that discrepancy.”]

https://www.saratoga-springs.org/DocumentCenter/View/10476/July-16th-Ethics-Response?bidId=


Aug 16, 2019 6:04 AM John Kaufmann To Wendy Liberatore

Ms. Morrison letter includes the following text:

Additionally, by copy of this letter, I ask the Ethics Board to make a determination of fact as it relates to this issue.

There is nothing casual or “informal” about this request.  The Ethics Board clearly saw this understandably as a serious request for an inquiry.  

Their response requested that in the future she use the proper form.  

The fact that she failed to adhere to the proper procedures doesn’t make it informal in light of her request and by their own language the board viewed it as a very serious request.

Why did you chose to characterize her request as “informal” rather than a failure by Ms Morrison to properly follow procedure?


Aug 16, 2019  9:55 AM, Wendy Liberatore To John Kaufmann

Hi John,

If you would like to meet for coffee to discuss this, that would be best.

Our emails go no where.

W.


August 16, 2019 6:04 PM John Kaufmann To Wendy Liberatore

We are both writers.  There is no reason to believe that talking would produce any better clarity than a thoughtful email exchange.

I think Ms. Morrison’s request that the Ethics Board investigate her allegations is clear and straight forward.  If by “informal” you are referencing her failure to follow proper procedure in making her complaint it seems odd to make her lack of attention in following the proper procedure into a virtue.  This is a virtue also shown by Bill McTygue and Ann Bullock who similarly failed to follow procedure.

The central issue however remains the fact that the Ethics Code makes no distinction regarding formal vs informal complaints.  As they say, you either are pregnant or you are not.  You either are requesting an investigation or you are not.

I appreciate that you take the time to respond to my emails in light of how critical I am of your reporting.  I also appreciate your gracious offer to chat over coffee.

Still I hope that you might take the time to address the points I have raised that it was a diservice to your readers to characterize Ms. Morrison’s request for an investigation as “informal” rather than as a failure to be sufficiently fastidious in following the requirements for submitting ethics complaints.


Ms. Liberatore did not respond further

Times Union Watch: Editors Print Correction Of Liberatore Story Re Bill McTygue Ethics Allegations

In the August 18 edition of the Times Union, Wendy Liberatore did a follow-up story  to charges recently brought before the Saratoga Springs Ethics Board. Her story featured Bill McTygue, one of the complainants,  giving him  the opportunity to repeat his accusations against the City Council, Eddy Miller, and Joanne Foresta.

In this story, Bill McTygue informs the Times Union that he and Ann Bullock had sent their complaint to the New York State Attorney General even before the city’s Ethics Board had dismissed their allegations.

In a bizarre twist to the story, Ms. Liberatore included a last paragraph that dealt with a 2014 controversy in which the Attorney General blocked a land swap the city was attempting in order to buy land for a new EMS facility on the east side of the city.

Ms. Liberatore asserted in the story that the Attorney General nixed the deal because the “…city was underselling taxpayer owned property.”

Bill McTygue and his brother Tom as well as then City Attorney Sarah Burger (now the new Saratoga Democratic chair)have been promoting this false narrative for years. Their effort to get the support of the Attorney General for their allegations were unsuccessful. The Attorney General did eventually block the project but for an entirely unrelated reason. The AG’s Charities Bureau determined there had been a conflict of interest between the parties the city had been dealing with. I covered the full story in detail in an earlier post on this blog.

The reader might ask, why would this business from 2014 even be included in this story? It appears that Ms. Liberatore was attempting to assist Bill McTygue by implying a pattern of malfeasance in the city’s operations, part of the city manager faction’s strategy to convince voters to change the city’s form of government.

I wrote to Ms. Liberatore pointing out that her statement concerning the Attorney General’s actions  was false and that the financials of the deal had nothing to do with the Attorney General’s actions. I sent her a link to my story which included all the correspondence from the Attorney General’s office to the city. I copied the news editor, Mike Spain, and Vice President and Editor, Rex Smith.

Ms. Liberatore emailed me back dismissing my concerns with a one line response that her statement was “based on previous reporting in the Times Union.”.

Several hours later she wrote me that her editor was investigating the matter.

Later that same night the story was revised on the Times Union website. It now included an introduction that the story had been corrected. The story now ended with an accurate description of why the land swap had been blocked. Of course this clarification made including the anecdote even more obviously irrelevant to Ms Liberatore’s story.

The emails can be found below. They include Ms. Liberatore referring to the revised story as having been “clarified” rather than corrected. When I asked her why the word “clarified” was used, to her credit she agreed it should have read “corrected”.


To: Wendy Liberatore

From: John Kaufmann

CC: Rex Smith, Mike Spain

Correction Re: Story

Date: Sunday August 18, 2019 12:49 PM

In your article titled “Complaint Dismissed By Saratoga Springs Officials Goes To State Attorney General’s Office” you include the following regarding the attempt by the city to build an EMS station on land owned by Temple Yeshiva Pardes Yosef D’Chasidei Belz :

“The Attorney General’s office ultimately halted the deal in 2017, determining the city was underselling taxpayer owned property.”

This is untrue.  The reason for the Attorney General’s office denial was due to a review by the AG’s office that deals with oversight of religious institutions.  The issue was not over the undervaluing of the property but the conflict of interest between the Aronson family who was seeking to purchase the lot and the Temple who owned the land.

Here is a link to my story.  It includes copies of all the relevant correspondence issued by the Attorney General’s office.

This error in your story is deeply disturbing.  Tom McTygue and his brother Bill along with the new Saratoga Springs City Democratic Committee chairperson, Sarah Burger have for years promoted the false narrative that the city was duped regarding the value of the deal.

A cursory review of the stories in the press at the time about this controversy will show how extensively the McTygues and Ms. Burger used the media to disseminate  their accusations.  It will also show that after initiating an investigation at the behest of the McTygues into the controversy, now some five years later, nothing further has been heard from the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity.

It is deeply disturbing that the Times Union would resurrect this trope and provide credibility to something that was long ago debunked.

In the interest of credible journalism, the Times Union needs to print a serious and prominent retraction.


To: John Kaufmann

From: Wendy Liberatore

Subject: Correction Re Story

Date: August 18, 2019 3:27

This is based on previous reporting in the Times Union


To: John Kaufmann

From: Wendy Liberatore

Subject: Correction Re Story

Date: August 18, 2019 4:36

Talked with editor. She is working on it.


To: Wendy Liberatore

From: John Kaufmann

CC: Rex Smith, Mike Spain

Correction Re: Story

Date: Sunday August 18, 2019 9:40 PM

What does this mean?


To: John Kaufmann

From: Wendy Liberatore

Subject: Correction Re Story

Date: August 18, 2019 10:41 PM

Reviewing past stories. I believe a clarification will be printed.


To: Wendy Liberatore

From: John Kaufmann

CC: Rex Smith, Mike Spain

Correction Re: Story

Date: Sunday August 18, 2019 10:52

“Clarification”? I thought it was called a correction?


To: John Kaufmann

From: Wendy Liberatore

Subject: Correction Re Story

Date: August 18, 2019 10:41 PM

Yes, Correction.


To: Wendy Liberatore

From: John Kaufmann

CC: Rex Smith, Mike Spain

Correction Re: Story

Date: Sunday August 18, 2019 10:47

I appreciate the decision of your editors to correct the story.

I would be interested in knowing what “previous stories in the Times Union” you referenced in your email (below). I noticed you did not copy them.

City Ethics Board Rejects Morrison Allegations Against Madigan

The Saratoga Springs Ethics Board issued a unanimous decision dismissing a complaint made by Patricia Morrison against Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan as without merit. The complete decision is attached below.

Ms. Morrison’s complaint was complicated by the manner by which she made her complaint.

The procedure for making a complaint to the Ethics Board involves utilizing a form available on their site. The form requires that the complainant lay out the facts underlying their complaint and then identify the specific parts of the Ethics Code the  actions allegedly violate.

Instead of using the Ethics Board form Ms. Morrison wrote to Commissioner Madigan, the target of her complaint, and copied the Ethics Board. Her letter, which challenged Madigan directly, was meant to add drama to what she clearly hoped would be a news story.

The letter was dated June 14, 2019, just eleven days prior to the June 25 primary in which Democrats would decide between Morrison and Commissioner Madigan for the Democratic line for Finance Commissioner. Ms. Morrison had to know that any decision by the Ethics Board on her allegations would come after the Primary.

In her letter Ms. Morrison cites a fundraiser for Commissioner Madigan hosted by Matthew Jones who, as an attorney, represents Saratoga Hospital. A pending update of the city’s zoning ordinances to put them in compliance with the city’s Comprehensive Plan contains a change that would enable the hospital to expand. Ms. Morrison also notes that Mr. Jones had contributed to Commissioner Madigan’s campaign. Ms. Morrison asserts that the fact that Madigan allowed Jones to organize a fundraiser on her behalf and that Madigan accepted donations from Jones constituted “… a direct conflict of interest and can be viewed as a clear violation of the City’s Code of Ethics.”

People with even the most modest knowledge of our government will recognize how extreme and even bizarre this allegation is. Ms. Morrison’s letter is linked below for those who wish to confirm that this is what she alleged. However troubled many of us may be about money and politics, someone organizing a fundraiser on a candidate’s behalf or receiving a contribution within the limits of the law is not in violation of the City’s Ethics Code as the decision by the Ethics Board made crystal clear. I would note that Matthew Jones also donated money to Joanne Yepsen when the hospital had matters pending before the Council.

If accepting a campaign donation from someone who might have business before the City Council now or in the future was a violation of the City’s Ethics Code pretty much everyone who has run for office let alone been elected would be a serial ethics violator.

In fact, Ms. Morrison herself has received donations from the neighbors of the hospital who oppose its expansion.

In The Words Of Marshall McCluhan, “The medium is the message.”

The “beauty” of writing a letter to Commissioner Madigan and adding a tag to make it also a complaint to the Ethics Board instead of just submitting a complaint to the Ethics Board, is that it freed Ms. Morrison from the severe limits of having to keep the focus on specific alleged violations of the city’s ethics code and facts supporting the allegations. The medium of the letter to Madigan allowed Ms. Morrison to throw in all kinds of hot button charges.

In one example of how Ms. Morrison’s use of a letter as a vehicle for her ethics complaint allows her wander into other territory, she calls upon the City Council to “censure the Commissioner of Finance from any further deliberations relating to the hospital rezoning and project proposal.”  “Censure” means “to express severe disapproval of”. Aside from the fact there is no hospital project before the Council for them to deliberate on Ms. Morrison’s use of this malapropism does not give one confidence  in her linguistic abilities . Likewise after finally ending her letter by asking for the Ethics Board to make a “determination of fact” she “strongly recommends that advice and legal counsel pertaining to this issue should be sought from the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics.” This advice is presumably directed to the Ethics Board, but Ms. Morrison never explains why she believes the Board should seek this advice. Throwing this out there, though,  presumably adds a bit of gravitas to her complaint.

One has to acknowledge the cunning of this strategy, though, along with its effectiveness.

The Decision

In their response to Ms.Morrison the Ethics Board addressed the issue of gifts to city officials. It pointed to the very clear language in the ethics code that elected officials, employees, and members of boards should not accept gifts. The one exception noted in section 13-2 of the code was campaign donations. As long as the amount of these donations are within the limits set by law they are not violations.

The Board wrote in their decision “that receipt of a campaign donation by a city elected official under the circumstances you describe does not constitute a violation of the gift provision in the Code.”

The language in the city’s ethics code is so clear that one has to ask how Ms. Morrison came to make her allegation. There are only three possibilities and none of them are flattering:
1. She did not take the time to read the city’s Ethics Code when making her accusation.
2. She read the ethics code and was unable to understand this very clear clause.
3. She knew what the Ethics Code said but also knew that the public would only find out the truth after the primary was over.
So What Does All This Mean?
The Finance Commissioner needs to be a person who approaches record keeping with a fastidious eye on detail and who rigorously studies and follows regulations and statutes. As a member of the City Council they need to approach issues at the table with restraint and prudence. Anyone who reviews Ms. Morrison’s behavior as reflected in both the substance and timing of her complaint must surely be deeply troubled by the prospect of her as the Commissioner of Finance.

This is a link to the Ethics Board’s decision: ethicsresponse.20190808

Hicks Campaign Ambushes Senator Gillibrand

In a press release sent out last week (she did not send me one), Ellen Egger-Aimone announced that she has resumed her role as Kendall Hicks’ campaign manager. Kendall Hicks is the Democratic candidate for Commissioner of Public Safety although he has not yet been endorsed by the City Democratic Committee. (It remains to be seen if he will be endorsed when the Committee meets under new leadership later this month.) Ellen Egger-Aimone had previously been Kendall Hicks’ campaign manager but withdrew a while ago and Robert Millis had taken over as “coordinator” (his description).

There was a fundraiser at the Lodge at Saratoga Casino on Wednesday, August 14, for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. As we all know she is currently seeking the Democratic nomination for President. One of Ms. Gillibrand’s priorities in her Senate career has been to expose and correct  the failure of the United States military command structure to effectively address violence against and harassment of women in the military.

Kendall Hicks attended the event accompanied by Ms. Egger-Aimone and Sarah Burger, the new city Democratic Chair. As the picture confirms, Ms. Egger-Aimone and Kendall Hicks arranged to be photographed with Senator Gillibrand.

This blog has published the police record which alleges that Mr. Hicks, while in the military, used a military vehicle to force his then girlfriend off a highway and in the course of their altercation assaulted her. In the same document, the arresting officer observed injuries to the victim and cited her fear of Mr. Hicks as the reason for her unwillingness to press charges.

Most people would consider it improper to arrange for a picture of Mr. Hicks with  Senator Gillibrand without informing her first about the potential problems of being photographed with Mr. Hicks.

One would also have expected Sarah Burger, as city Democratic Chair, to intercede and warn the Senator that this might be potentially embarrassing for her. This did not happen.

It is also worth noting that the screen shot below documents that Joanne Yepsen “liked” the photograph of Senator Gillibrand, Ellen Egger-Aimone, and Kendall Hicks that now appears on Mr. Hicks Facebook Page.

There seems to be no limit to what the group I call the White Walkers is willing to do.