County Committee Authorizing Raises Violated NYS Open Meetings Law

It appears that the committee which authorized the raises for “essential” county employees was in violation of the New York State Open Meetings Law which would make their action null and void.

Most meetings of public bodies that transact business are covered by the New York State Open Meetings law. This law was adopted so that decisions affecting the public would not be made secretly. It requires public bodies to give notice of when they meet, allow the public access to the meeting, and publish minutes of the meeting.

The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors’ resolution which allowed for the 50% increase in salaries for “essential” workers authorized a committee made up of three Supervisors and two administrative staff members to decide staffing and set salaries for County employees. The committee was not given a name. For our purposes I will refer to it as the “Special Committee.”

At some point following the meeting that adopted the resolution, this committee apparently met outside of public view and instituted the time and a half raises.

I contacted the New York State Committee on Open Government and spoke to Kristin O’Neil, the Deputy Director of the office. I reviewed with Ms. O’Neil the section of the County resolution that created the “Special Committee”. She told me that if the committee had been simply operating in an advisory capacity to the Board of Supervisors it would not have been covered by the Open Meetings Law. As the “Special Committee” was empowered to actually take action on behalf of the County government, however, it was required to follow the provisions of the Open Meetings law.

The law requires that the public be notified as to when and where such a meeting will occur prior to the meeting. The meeting must be open to the public and the minutes of such meetings must be available to the public.

Following my conversation with Ms. O’Neil I went to the County’s website and accessed the calendar that lists public meetings. I could find no entry for this “Special Committee.” I also went to the page on the website that provides access to the minutes of the public meetings and could find no entry.

Any action take by a public body in violation of the Open Meetings Law is invalid. My experience observing the courts is that they would permit the County to take corrective action. At a minimum the “Special Committee” would, following proper public notice, be required to meet again to retroactively approve their action.

I have written to the County Attorney, Stephen Dorsey, asking him to address this issue. The full text of my inquiry is at the end of this post.

It is also unclear whether the Board of Supervisors had the authority to delegate the power to set salaries to an ad hoc committee. I will be writing to the Comptroller of the State of New York advising them of the County’s actions and asking for an opinion.


Email To County Attorney Stephen Dorsey

I contacted the New York State Committee on Open Government regarding the committee established in resolution 84 at the March 17, 2020 meeting held under the auspices of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors.  I spoke with Kristin O’Neill, Assistant Director of the State’s Committee.  I reviewed the resolution with her with special attention to the following:

RESOLVED, that the Chair of the Board, the Chair of the Law and Finance Committee, the Chair of the Human Resources and Insurance Committee, the County Administrator and the Director of Human Resources shall have the authority to jointly determine appropriate County employee staffing levels and rates of compensation that are consistent and in compliance with the current directives of any Executive Order issued by the Governor of the State of New York relative to local government staffing levels; and be it further ….

Ms. O’Neill confirmed my reading of the text that the committee was not charged to act in an advisory capacity but was manifestly granted full authority to establish “staffing levels and rates of compensation.”  As such she advised me that the committee would be subject to the Open Meetings Law.

 I have looked at the calendar on the County website.  As the resolution did not ascribe a name to the committee, I cannot be sure, but am impelled to note that none of the names in the calendar appeared to be that group of officials.  I also looked in the minutes option and similarly could not find anything related to the committee at issue.

 Was there notice provided to the public prior to the committee meeting?  Are there minutes that memorialize the deliberations and actions of its members, and are they now available to the public?  I note that, as a clear matter of law, two verities dominate this inquiry: (1) the Freedom of information Law (FOIL) pertains to and defines the public’s right to government records; and (2) the Open Meetings Law pertains to and defines the public’s right to attend the meetings of public bodies.  Both of these statutory enactments are settled matters of public policy in New York, and are grounded in a presumption of meaningful and timely access.    

In light of the above, would you concur that the committee was and is covered by the New York State Open Meetings Law, and that records of its proceedings are likewise covered by the FOIL?

Thank you for your attention in this matter.

John Kaufmann

518-281-2173
Sent from my iPad

Beyond Greed: Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Flying Blind In A Typhoon

The Saratoga Prosperity Partnership reported the results of a recent poll they did of local businesses. Over two hundred and thirty businesses responded.

According to Shelby Schneider, president of SPP:

“Fifty-nine percent of the business [sic] reported that they’re at risk of closing and they’re concerned about how to retain and pay [sic] workforce they still have. Forty-one percent of those surveyed say they have already had to lay off their workforce. A majority of businesses say that they need working capital now.”

The difference between Saratoga Springs’ response to this pending economic crisis and Saratoga County’s

It is indisputable that both the County and the city of Saratoga Springs are going to experience a precipitous drop in sales tax revenue. It is instructive to see how the city of Saratoga Springs is addressing this fiscal challenge in contrast to the County.

Yesterday (Thursday, March 26, 2020) Michele Madigan, the Saratoga Springs Commissioner of Finance, issued a press release addressing the City’s financial condition and providing estimates to the public of what the loss of revenues this year could look like (the full release can be found at the bottom of this post).

The following is an excerpt from the release:

“The 2020 General Operating Budget projects total 2020 revenues of approximately $48.7 million. At this time we are considering a scenario of a $7.8M loss of revenue for the first half of 2020.  It is harder to judge through year-end, but we may be facing a total 2020 revenue shortfall of $16 million. This scenario equates to a 33% shortfall in 2020 revenue. We are planning to manage through this loss of revenue – and we are well positioned to do so.”

March 26 Press Release

Having acknowledged the problem, the release discusses the state of the City’s finances and the release describes the Finance Department’s approach to managing this shortfall.

Contrast this to how Saratoga County is addressing the fiscal disaster we are entering. As documented in an earlier post, when the County Board of Supervisor’s Law and Finance Committee was told that the projected additional cost for the proposed raises for the County’s “essential” employees was $325,000.00 per week and that there was no way to estimate how long it would be necessary to continue this policy, one would have expected a discussion of the County’s finances similar to the review done by Commissioner Madigan. No such discussion took place. Not one County Supervisor asked “Where are we going to get the money to do this?”

When you consider that, according to the County Administrator’s own estimates, the liability for these raises could exceed $1,000,000.00 a month, one has to ask, where are our Saratoga Springs Supervisors in all of this. It is good Supervisors Gaston and Veitch have announced that they are now opposed to the existing policy but conspicuously missing is precisely what their alternative would be. News reports show that at least one Supervisor from another town who opposes the policy would still continue the increase in wages for some employees.

It would seem that essential to making any decision regarding these raises, there needs to be an airing of what if any plans exist for addressing the anticipated loss of County revenue. If for example, the county were to lose 20% of its sales tax income over the next six months, are there the reserves to absorb this loss? If not, would there need to be layoffs? Would funding for some services be curtailed?

It is time for Supervisor Matthew Veitch and Supervisor Tara Gaston to step up and show some leadership. We are heading into uncharted waters. They need to insist that the County address how it will respond to the potential short falls in revenues it faces. They need to show that they have the courage to go beyond the cronyism that dominates our County government.

The two Saratoga Springs Supervisors attend our City Council meetings. At each meeting they report to the Council. To say that their reports are banal is to be kind. They need to address the Council at the next meeting about the state of the finances of the County. If they do not volunteer this information, the members of our City Council should insist that they do.


Finance Department Press Release

The City of Saratoga Springs is fortunate to have a healthy financial foundation as we face the COVID-19 pandemic.  The City’s economy is based on a diversity of sources, many of which are closely tied to tourism, entertainment, social activities, and our yearly racing season. We have been assessing our revenue, expenditures, and cash-on-hand as well as various fiscal tools available to the city based on near term, long term, moderate and severe outcomes.   

The 2020 General Operating Budget projects total 2020 revenues of approximately $48.7 million. At this time we are considering a scenario of a $7.8M loss of revenue for the first half of 2020.  It is harder to judge through year-end, but we may be facing a total 2020 revenue shortfall of $16 million. This scenario equates to a 33% shortfall in 2020 revenue. We are planning to manage through this loss of revenue – and we are well positioned to do so.

Since circumstances are changing daily, we are proceeding with caution regarding how to address this loss-of-revenue scenario.  Both over- and under-estimating our response has consequences.  Given the City’s good financial position and excellent community partnerships, we have many options, including cash-on-hand, healthy reserves, borrowing, various bonding tools, and shared services. 

It is too soon to determine what combination of these efforts will fit our needs.  But it is not too soon to state that all options will be considered very carefully, against the sustainability of the City government, the needs of our taxpayers, and most importantly, the health, safety and welfare of our citizens. We will not make rash decisions, and we remain confident that we can manage through this crisis while minimizing disruptions to essential City services.


Thank you,

Michele Madigan

Commissioner of Finance

City of Saratoga Springs, NY

474 Broadway 

Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

518-587-3550 

City Initiates Video Community Event Addressing Mental Health Issues and COVID-19

[JK: Commissioner of Public Safety sent me this notice about a Face Book video event addressing mental health issues related to COVID-19]

Link to event.

” We can’t underestimate the impact this pandemic is having on mental health” ~Gov Andrew Cuomo, March 25

The fears and anxieties brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak are significant and widespread. Please join us on Friday from 11am-noon to ask questions and discuss addressing these issues with your family and children-this is the first topic in a series addressing the mental health concerns stemming from the Coronavirus. The FB live will be moderated by Mayor Meg Kelly and Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, joined by guest Alex Capo, LMHC. Alex is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with over 15 years of clinical experience working with children, adolescents and families. He is currently the Executive Director of the Charlton School.

**For 24-7, free emotional support, consultation and referral to a provider, call 1-844-863-9314. a mental health hotline for New Yorkers set up to help with NY’s COVID-19 response**

Full Text Of Saratoga County Board of Supervisors’ Resolution That Allowed for the Implementation of the Time and a Half Raises

Lew Benton asked that I post the full text of the resolution.


RESOLUTION 84 – 2020

Introduced by Supervisors Pemrick, Kinowski, Kusnierz, Schopf, Tollisen, Winney and Wright

AUTHORIZING EMERGENCY ACTIONS IN SUPPORT OF THE CHAIRMAN’S DECLARATION OF A STATE OF EMERGENCY, AND AMENDING THE 2020 COUNTY BUDGET IN RELATION THERETO

WHEREAS, the 2019-Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is an infection associated with fever and signs and symptoms of pneumonia or other respiratory illness, appears to be transmitted from person to person predominately through droplet transmission and, if spread in the population, could have significant public health consequences;

and WHEREAS, on February 1, 2020, pursuant to 10 NYCRR Section 2.1(a), Dr. Howard A. Zucker, as Commissioner of Health of the State of New York, designated COVID-19 as a communicable disease under the State Sanitary Code, which was ratified on February 6, 2020 through the adoption of emergency regulations amending 10 NYCRR Section 2.1;

and WHEREAS, on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic;

and WHEREAS, there are several confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Saratoga County and that number is increasing;

and WHEREAS, Saratoga County has a clear governmental interest in protecting the health and safety of the residents of the County and beyond;

and WHEREAS, pursuant to Section 24 of the Executive Law of the State of New York, on March 16, 2020 the Chair of this Board of Supervisors issued Executive Order No. 2 of 2020 declaring a State of Emergency in Saratoga County for a period of thirty (30) days effective at 12:00 pm on March 16, 2020;

and WHEREAS, it is necessary and advisable that County departments seeking to procure services and purchase supplies, material and equipment needed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic be authorized to forego compliance with competitive bidding and competitive offering requirements as permitted by General Municipal Law §103(4) and the Purchasing Procedures of the County of Saratoga;

and WHEREAS, the County’s Incident Command Team formed to coordinate and manage the County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is working out of the offices of Saratoga County Emergency Services, and its members are working long hours thereby necessitating that meals be brought into them at their work stations;

and WHEREAS, the meals provided to the employees serving on the County’s Incident Command Team are paid for using the County’s credit card, which credit card has a credit limit of $15,000;

and WHEREAS, as it appears that the County’s Incident Command Team will be in operation for several months, it is necessary to seek a raise in the credit limit of the County’s credit card from the local bank that issued the card to an amount not to exceed $50,000 in order that meals may be provided to members of the County’s Incident Command Team while the team is in operation;

and WHEREAS, the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors seeks to guarantee that the employees of the County of Saratoga subject to quarantine due to COVID-19 are able to do so without exhausting their accruals in order to assist in ensuring the health of the employee, the workplace, and the public;

and WHEREAS, on March 15, 2020, the County Administration issued a directive to all County departments to reduce staffing levels to approximately 50% by having non-essential employees stay at home in an effort to help contain the spread of COVID-19;

and WHEREAS, on March 16, 2020, Governor Cuomo issued Executive Order No.202.4 directing local governments to allow non-essential personnel to be able to work from home or take leave without charging accruals, except for those personnel essential to the locality’s response to the COVID-19 emergency, which nonessential personnel shall total no less than 50% of the total number of employees of each local government;

and WHEREAS, it is necessary to provide for a flexible and expeditious process for determining appropriate County staffing levels and rates of compensation in response to the County’s efforts to contain and mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic and any current directives of the Governor affecting local governments;

and WHEREAS, Saratoga County Public Health Services is in need of additional staffing, supplies and equipment in order to respond to the ever increasing number of individuals who have tested positive for COVID19, been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, or who are exhibiting symptoms of COVID19;

and WHEREAS, it is necessary to amend the 2020 Saratoga County Budget to effect a transfer of $1,000,000 from Fund Balance to Saratoga County Public Health Services in order to allow Public Health Services to hire additional temporary staffing, procure needed supplies and equipment, and help to meet the needs of those individuals in the community subject to mandatory or precautionary quarantine;

now, therefore be it RESOLVED, that in accordance with the Purchasing Procedures of the County of Saratoga and the provisions of General Municipal Law §103(4), and in furtherance of the declaration of a state of emergency in Saratoga County pursuant to Executive Order No. 2 of 2020, this Board of Supervisors hereby waives compliance with competitive bidding and competitive offering requirements by County departments for the procurement of services and purchase of supplies, materials and equipment needed to protect and maintain the life, health and safety of Saratoga County residents;

and be it further RESOLVED, that the County Administrator is hereby authorized to seek and obtain an increase in the credit limit of the County’s credit card from $15,000 to an amount not to exceed $50,000;

and be it further RESOLVED, that the County of Saratoga shall provide paid leave for all scheduled workdays within a fourteen (14) calendar day period to all County of Saratoga employees subject to mandatory quarantine due to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Employees will not charge accruals during their time off from work for quarantine. This directive will apply to all County of Saratoga employees, regardless of civil service classification, bargaining unit, and regardless of part time or accrual status. This directive shall not apply to any employee who is already out of work due to a paid leave of absence or unpaid leave of absence;

and be it further RESOLVED, that such paid leave will commence on the day after Saratoga County Public Health Services has either ordered or determined that an employee requires mandatory quarantine. If an employee is advised during the course of his or her workday that he or she must quarantine pursuant to the order or determination of Saratoga County Public Health Services, then that employee must immediately leave the workplace and will be paid for the remaining hours left for the scheduled day of work;

and be it further RESOLVED, that “mandatory quarantine” means a person who has symptoms of COVID-19, has been diagnosed with COVID-19, or has no symptoms but has been within six (6) feet of someone who has tested positive and who has been ordered or recommended to quarantine by Saratoga County Public Health Services. It shall also mean someone who has traveled to China, Iran, Japan, South Korea or Italy and is displaying symptoms of COVID-19. This list shall be subject to change in the discretion of the Director of Saratoga County Public Health Services, based upon circumstances present in Saratoga County and/or in accordance with guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control or New York State Health Department;

and be it further RESOLVED, that this Resolution shall not supersede applicable terms sets forth in the various collective bargaining agreements for an employee placed in quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19 while performing his or her duties, as the applicable terms set forth in the various collective bargaining agreements shall still apply. This Resolution shall apply to those not covered under any collective bargaining agreement or those subject to mandatory quarantine due to possible exposure while not in the performance of his or her duties for the County of Saratoga;

and be it further RESOLVED, that these extraordinary measures are due to the declared state of emergency and COVID-19 pandemic. These measures shall not to be construed against the County of Saratoga as a policy and practice for any other future occurrence;

and be it further RESOLVED, that the Chair of the Board, the Chair of the Law and Finance Committee, the Chair of the Human Resources and Insurance Committee, the County Administrator and the Director of Human Resources shall have the authority to jointly determine appropriate County employee staffing levels and rates of compensation that are consistent and in compliance with the current directives of any Executive Order issued by the Governor of the State of New York relative to local government staffing levels;

and be it further RESOLVED, that the 2020 County Budget is amended as follows:

PUBLIC HEALTH Appropriations:

Increase Acct. # A.40.409-6000 Regular Wages $150,000 Increase Acct.

#A.40.409-6930 Social Security $ 11,475

Increase Acct. #A.40.409-8200 Department Supplies $838,525 $1,000,000 Revenues:

Increase Acct. # A.0599.B Appropriated Fund Balance $1,000,000

and, be it further RESOLVED, that the emergency actions set forth in this Resolution shall remain in effect for so long as the Chairman’s declaration of a state of emergency as set forth in Executive Order No. 2 of 2020, or any renewal thereof in a subsequent Executive Order or Orders, shall remain in effect.

BUDGET IMPACT STATEMENT: The budget amendment will require an appropriation of fund balance in the amount of $1,000,000.

Saratoga County Throws The Public A Bone; Insurgent Supervisors Organize To Force Special Meeting

Following the publishing of the Times Union story on Saratoga County granting time and a half to their “essential employees” the story went viral on social media. Supervisors from Clifton Park and Moreau issued statements to the media questioning the policy.

According to the Times Union, Sheriff Michael Zurlo and Director of Emergency Management Services Carl Zeilman (Chair of the Saratoga County Republican Committee) announced that they would not be accepting the time and a half.

New York State Law Would Not Allow Sheriff Zurlo This Raise

It should be noted that Sheriff Zurlo should never have been included in the raises. New York State Law prohibits elected officials from receiving an increase in salary during their current term except through a very challenging process. At the end of this post you will find an explanation of the statutes I received from Lew Benton.

Unflattering Coverage In The Media

Last night (March 25) WNYT (Channel 13) ran two stories, on the raises, neither of them very flattering. Particularly stinging in the stories was commentary from the County Administrator for Warren County, Ryan Moore:

“To ask those people (laid off workers) to reach into their pocket right now when they’re out of work and don’t have the money to pay us for doing our jobs that we took an oath to do? Come on.”

Supervisors Ask For Answers

In a letter dated March 24, Supervisors representing Clifton Park, Halfmoon, Wilton, and Malta wrote to Preston Allen, the chairman of the Board of Supervisors, and Spencer Hellwig, the County Administrator. The letter ends with the following:

We believe that everybody should strongly consider decisions made regarding compensation of employees, not only establishes precedent for the future of the County, but also has a direct effect on the individual municipalities that we manage.

A week has now passed, since the March 17th BOS meeting and we would like a timely update on the current situation involving how and where funds are being spent regarding the COVID-19 response. Thank you for your timely response.

Letter

While it would have been more helpful if they had raised these concerns at the meeting when the resolution that allowed for the raises was adopted, I welcome their taking up the issue now.

Saratoga County “Adjusts” Policy On Raises

Wendy Liberatore reported in yesterday’s (March 25) Times Union that the County has “tweaked” the policies regarding salaries:

  • They have reduced the number of managers receiving the enhanced pay. They reported that 35 managers will be entitled to the pay. For a county government of our size that seems like quite a few “managers.” The article did not include how many managers the county has so we have no idea how significant this drop is.
  • The managers will receive time and a half for the first thirty-five hours and then regular pay after that. This is a strange inversion.
  • Another three hundred employees will continue to receive time and a half for all the normal hours they work.
  • Spencer Hellwig, the County Administrator, will not be receiving time and a half from now on. It was unclear whether he voluntarily gave up the perk or if it was decided for him.
  • Apparently Marcie McNamara, Director of Human Resources, is still a beneficiary. I would remind the readers that Ms. McNamara is both the beneficiary of the benefits and also sits on a five person committee appointed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors that determines who gets the benefits and what those benefits will be. I find it hard to believe that this does not violate some statute in New York State law.

Something of a Revolt by the Largest Towns/Cities

Saratoga County has a weighted vote system. The weight of each Supervisor’s vote in many cases is based on the population of the towns/cities they represent.

There are twenty-three Supervisors representing twenty-one jurisdictions. Saratoga Springs and Clifton Park have two Supervisors each because they are the largest jurisdictions.

As best I can determine:

The total population of the county is 219,607

A majority vote by the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors requires a weighted vote of 109,804

The total populations of Saratoga Springs, Clifton Park, Halfmoon, Milton, and Wilton is 119,574. So Supervisors from these five jurisdictions represent a weighted majority of the twenty-one towns in the County.

Calling a special meeting of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors requires a majority of the seated 23 Supervisors (12), not a majority of weighted votes.

According to my sources ten Supervisors initiated a call for a special meeting of the Saratoga County Board. They represented the towns/cities of:

Clifton Park (2)

Halfmoon

Malta

Milton

Moreau

Ballston

Saratoga Springs (2)

As a majority requires twelve votes they were short two Supervisors. I was told that at least two of the smaller town Supervisors have agreed to sign on. I was also told by a reliable source that there will probably be an emergency meeting sometime this week but that would mean it would have to take place tomorrow, Friday.

Lew Benton On Raising Salaries For Elected Official  For instance, the compensation of an elected county official (sheriff) CANNOT be increased during his term ( see New York Consolidated Laws, County Law – CNT § 201. Compensation of officers) EXCEPT by invoking Section 24, 2., h. of the Municipal Home Rule Law which I have pasted and highlighted below:2., h.In the case of a city, town or village increases the salary of an elective officer during his term of office or, in the case of a county, increases the salary of an elective officer or of an officer appointed for a fixed term, during his term of office, except where any such increase by a county is made in accordance with a schedule providing higher rates of compensation through additional increments of salary based on time service, which schedule or applicable amendment thereof was in existence prior to the commencement of such term of office.As you can see, to increase an elected official’s compensation requires adoption of a local law subject to permissive referendum.  Such  a local law requires formal publlic hearing and adoption by he Board of Supervisors.

Saratoga County Salaries: Endemic Self-Dealing and Cover up Exposed

I have written in recent posts about the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors granting a 50% raise to their “essential” employees. Here’s more of what I have been learning about this.

The Cost Of These Salary Increases Is Estimated To Be Big

According to the minutes of the March 17 Board of Supervisors meeting, the estimated cost of this raise was projected to be $325,000.00 per week. This was the number presented to the Board by Spencer Hellwig, County Administrator. He did indicate that there was hope that the number of employees covered by this might be reduced in the future. He also acknowledged he had no idea how long this would go on. So if these raises were projected out over four weeks it would cost Saratoga County an additional $1,300,000.00.

Some Background

The Law and Finance Committee for the Board of Supervisors basically sets the Board of Supervisors agendas. All resolutions from subcommittees of the Board must pass through this committee, and the Law and Finance Committee also drafts their own resolutions.

Rob Arrigo, chair of the Saratoga County Libertarian Party, sent me the minutes from the March 17, 2020, Law and Finance Committee and the March 17, 2020, full Board of Supervisors meeting. These documents are the sources of much of the information for this post.

Saratoga Springs Supervisors Deny Knowledge Of How The Salaries For Essential Employees were increased by 50%

As noted in the last post, Supervisor Tara Gaston claimed she had no knowledge of how the salary increases had been instituted and claimed that she had written to the county (it is not clear exactly to whom) asking for clarification. She said she had heard nothing.

Supervisor Matthew Veitch responded to an email asking him about these raises. In his email he said that he opposes them and would vote against them. Similar to Ms. Gaston he said he was not involved in the decision and had no knowledge of how it was done.

Unfortunately for both Supervisors Gaston and Veitch the records show that they were both privy to discussions about adopting the policy and directly involved in the decision. In reality, they both voted to adopt the salary increases.

What The Public Record Shows

According to the minutes of the Law and Finance Committee, while neither Ms. Gaston or Mr. Veitch is a member of the Committee, both Supervisors were in attendance and were privy to the decision to send the salary increases proposal to the full Board.

Here is an excerpt from the minutes of the meeting:

Mr. Schopf asked for clarification that half of the County’s workforce is being sent home yet still have to appropriate $325,000. Mr. Wright said it is because of the employees working will receive time and one-half. (Emphasis added)

Law and Finance Committee Minutes

It Is Not True!

Mr. Kusnierz asked if the State and other localities were providing time and a half. Ms. McNamara said the state was as well as some municipalities.

Law and Finance Committee Minutes

Ms. McNamara is Marcie McNamara, the county Director of Human Resources. In a story on WNYT (Channel 13), Mark Mulholand reported that Washington County was paying its hourly workers more but not its salaried employees which Saratoga is. As far as I can tell, that is the only other county. What is clearly false is her assertion that state workers are receiving time and a half.

———————–

At the full Board of Supervisors meeting, again both Supervisors Gaston and Veitch were present.

The minutes of the discussion of the resolution that would allow for the salary increases makes clear that the Supervisors were fully aware of the impact the resolution would have if adopted.

Here is just one excerpt from the minutes of that meeting:

He [JK: Supervisor Kusnierz] asked the County Administrator to provide the costs as they relate to salaries and rates of pay for the 30 day period. Mr. Hellwig said the cost per week is approximately $325,000 [JK: The figure used at the Law and Finance Committee for how much the increase of time and a half would cost]. Mr. Kusnierz said this is an issue that will continue for some time and asked if there is an anticipation that these provisions will continue to be renewed moving forward after the 30 days. Mr. Allen said there is no way to predict how long this will continue.

At the end of this post is the full text of the discussion regarding the raises. The resolution that would allow for these raises passed unanimously. It begs credibility that both Ms. Gaston and Mr. Veitch were unaware that their vote would result in these raises going forward.

Even more stunning, as the minutes show, Ms. Gaston attempted to end the public discussion of these raises and move to an executive session. Clearly she saw how potentially volatile this issue could be.

A Major Conflict of Interest

The resolution included a clause that authorized the establishment of what I will call the “Special Committee” to determine “rates of compensation.” The committee will be comprised of the Chair of the Board of Supervisors, the chairs of two subcommittees of the Board, the County Administrator, and the Director of Human Resources.

The County Administrator and the Director of Finance have clear conflicts of interest. Both of these positions are beneficiaries of the 50% raises. Why these two administrative positions need these raises is something I cannot answer. Having them sit on the committee that determines their own salaries adds insult to injury.

Here is the text authorizing their participation in the committee

RESOLVED, that the Chair of the Board, the Chair of the Law and Finance Committee, the Chair of the Human Resources and Insurance Committee, the County Administrator and the Director of Human Resources shall have the authority to jointly determine appropriate County employee staffing levels and rates of compensation that are consistent and in compliance with the current directives of any Executive Order issued by the Governor of the State of New York relative to local government staffing levels; and be it further

A Slight Of Hand That Fools No One

A careful reading of the resolution reveals that there is nothing in it that explicitly authorizes the 50% increase for salaries of “essential workers”. Instead it empowers the “Special Committee” to set salaries. This maneuver made it possible for the members of the Board of Supervisors to claim “deniability.” They think they can avoid accountability by claiming they were not involved in the actual establishment of the salaries even though they voted to establish a committee whose clear purpose was to do this.

This is truly the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Both the minutes of the Law and Finance Committee and the Board of Supervisors reveal that the main purpose of the Special Committee was to raise salaries. The minutes record the Supervisors discussing what the projected cost for the raises will be. The horse is out of the barn. It is too late to claim ignorance.

——————————–

For those who are interested, here is further information from the minutes for the Law and Finance Committee as they deliberated about the raises and the minutes of the full Board of Supervisors covering their discussion of this issue:

Excerpt From Minutes Of Law And Finance

Mr. Schopf asked for clarification that half of the County’s workforce is being sent home yet still have to appropriate $325,000. Mr. Wright said it is because of the employees working will receive time and one-half. Mr. Hellwig said there was a meeting with the unions. Three days later the State’s Executive Order came out. The unions responded if employees had to go to work, there should be additional compensation. Mr. Kusnierz asked if that was for salaried individuals as well or just union employees. Mr. Hellwig said all county employees. Mr. Kusnierz is concerned with the precedent this may be setting. Mr. Pemrick said everything that is happening right now is brand new, precedents may be set and we will have to deal with them later. Mrs. McNamara said this was a union decision as well as a management decision. Mr. Kusnierz asked if the State and other localities were providing time and a half. Mrs. McNamara said the state was as well as some municipalities. Mr. Pemrick said this was being evaluated on a weekly basis. Mrs. McNamara said Departments will be evaluated to determine if they can close.

On a motion was made by Mr. Wright, seconded by Mr. Tollisen a resolution authorizing emergency actions was unanimously adopted. Mr. Kusnierz and Mr. Schopf were in support of moving this forward to the Board for discussion.

Full Text Of Board of Supervisors Discussion on Raises

Mr. Kusnierz said he supported Resolution 84 in Law and Finance to move it to the Board for discussion. He said the last resolved indicates that the provision of the resolution shall be in effect for as long as the emergency is in effect for the County. He asked the County Administrator to provide the costs as they relate to salaries and rates of pay for the 30 day period. Mr. Hellwig said the cost per week is approximately $325,000. Mr. Kusnierz said this is an issue that will continue for some time and asked if there is an anticipation that these provisions will continue to be renewed moving forward after the 30 days. Mr. Allen said there is no way to predict how long this will continue. Mr. Kusnierz asked if there was a cost estimate if this goes until the end of the fiscal year. Mr. Hellwig said there is no way to know but there are initiatives in place to scale this back. There are departments that additional reductions can be made to lower the cost to the County. The list of departments is a work in progress but will have a better idea in a day or two. Mrs. McNamara said each department has been asked to cut their workforce by at least 50%. The Public Works Department has been reduced by 82%. She said Thursday she would provide a recommended list of departments that can close as the interaction between county employees needs to be limited.

Mr. Kinowski asked if there was any chance of recouping funds from the State/Federal Government. Mr. Hellwig said all departments have been asked to track any extraordinary expenses as a result of the pandemic.

Mr. Barrett asked if the provision for additional pay is in any of the NYS Executive Orders. Mrs. McNamara said it was not. It was purely from an employee relations standpoint. Mr. Barrett asked who was covered by the provisions. Mrs. McNamara said it is any county employee who is coming in to work.

Ms. Gaston asked for a point of order as she questioned whether this subject would be better discussed in Executive Session. Mr. Dorsey said the discussion was relevant to the Resolution presented and does not need to be in Executive Session.

Mr. Barrett said if the Public Works Department was reduced by 82% will there be enough manpower going forward to handle situations as they may arise. Mrs. McNamara said the Public Works Commissioner can call back any or all of his workforce as he deems necessary.

Mr. Barrett said it was mentioned at Law and Finance that this would be looked at on a weekly basis. He does not see that in the resolution what the mechanism for that review is. Mr. Dorsey said in the last resolved on the third page does state who would be reviewing this.

Mr. Schopf said his concern is the appropriation for $150,000 for regular wages and if he reads the resolution correctly, that is for additional staffing for Public Health; and $325,000 for additional wages for over time/non overtime wages for people who are supposed to report to work anyway. That amount is more than what is allocated in resolution. Mr. Allen said the amount is what the County has at this time and if departments are closed that number will drop. Mr. Schopf asked Mr. Cooke about the $325,000 that was reported at Law & Finance. Mr. Cooke said that was the number reported if the staffing remains at 50%; however that 50% number has gone down and will continue to go down. Mr. Schopf said his concern is some of his constituents may lose their jobs and the county is essentially providing a 50% raise.

Mr. Pemrick said he knows money trumps just about anything. This unique situation requires unique actions. This is an opportunity to keep people safe but also build some respect, cooperation and good will within the staff.

Mr. Peck said we are in trying times and we need to give some flexibility to the leadership to help guide the County. We need to stand behind them and support them. We need to evolve and move forward as we go through this process.

Mr. Lawler asked if the concern is on the compensation portion of the resolution. Mr. Schopf said his concern was for the additional funding for staff and not for the funding to support Public Health. Mr. Lawler said we are in unchartered waters and there are merits on both sides of this. He suggested committing to the time and a half for a 30-day period but beyond that, there needs to be a review. Mrs. McNamara said the county would not be committed to a 30-day period for the time and a half. She said it will be one week at a time and the unions do know that.

Mr. Schopf said that he would support it for a one-week period. Mr. Kusnierz said he whole-heartedly supports this. His concerns have been addressed.


Saratoga Police and Druthers Support Hospital Staff: Our Community Comes Together

[JK: From the Saratoga Springs Police Facebook Page]

“The Saratoga Springs PBA wanted to do something for the amazing Emergency Room and ICU staff of Saratoga Hospital, so they ordered a meal to deliver from Druthers Brewing Company. Officers went to Druthers to pick up their purchase only to discover that not only did Druthers donate the meal made for the hospital staff, but they also made food for the Police and Fire Departments! Huge thank you to Druthers. To the staff at Saratoga Hospital: thank you will never be enough. We see the hard work you are doing and the personal sacrifices you are making!”

From Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton:

“I continue to be inspired by the passion and dedication of our police and fire departments. They are leading by example in this time of crisis and we all applaud them.”