Saratoga Springs Supervisors Gaston and Veitch Rise To The Demands Of Crisis

There is nothing like a crisis to bring out the best and the worst in people. In the case of our two County Supervisors, Tara Gaston and Matthew Veitch, it has brought out the best.

The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors has for years atrophied from a relatively responsive institution into a clumsy organization fraught with cronyism and nepotism. It was only a matter of time before the county government would finally do something so ugly and self serving that it could no longer be hidden. The COVID-19 crisis has finally produced that event.

I would have liked to have included in this post clips from the April 21, 2020, meeting with the thoughtful remarks made by Supervisor Gaston. Unfortunately the recordings of the county meetings, unlike the city of Saratoga Springs Council meetings, are not made available to the public. Even if they were, the poor quality of the audio would have rendered them useless.

Fortunately, the two Supervisors addressed the City Council the evening of the county meeting and I was able to edit the video to share it with this blog’s readers.

These brief clips are very much worth listening to. Not only do they illuminate what happened at the county meeting but they reflect the willingness of our Supervisors to take on the reforms needed at the Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Veitch Explains Why He Voted Not To Ratify April 17 Meeting
Supervisor Veitch Discusses What Happened At The April 21 Meeting
Supervisor Veitch Talks About His Hope For The Future Of County Government
Tara Gaston Analysis #1
Gaston Analysis #2
Tara Gaston Analysis #3
Testing Fiasco In Malta #1
Testing Fiasco In Malta #2
Commissioner Dalton and Supervisor Veitch Discuss County #1
Commissioners Madigan and Dalton Discuss County With Supervisor Veitch

Commissioner Madigan Issues Update On City Finances

[JK: This is a release from the Finance Department. Things look pretty tough for this year. “The City is now in the process of reviewing its 2020 budget for adjustments that will be required in the face of a potential $14 to $16 million, or 29% to 33%, loss of general fund revenue.” The departments are being asked to submit budgets with 10% cuts.

Particularly troubling is that NYRA has produced a new “formula” for their payments to the city which represents a reduction of approximately 40%. Commissioner Madigan writes that she is trying to find out how this was determined.]







For Immediate Release:  April 23, 2020

Contact:​Commissioner of Finance, Michele Madigan

Re:​City of Saratoga Springs 2019 Year End Report and April 2020 Covid-19 Fiscal Update 

Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan reports that 2019City general fund (operating budget) closed out the year with a strong fund balance and nominal operating deficit.  

Unaudited year-end figures show a $16,758,000 fund balance; about half of this is restricted and half is freely available. This equates to 17.32% of the operating budget, well within the required 10% -25% range. The annual operating deficit for 2019 was $856,000, about 1.8% of the 2019 budget.  

Of note is NYRA Admissions Tax, which came in 40% below 2018 as a result of a change in NYRA’s calculation methodology. 2019 amounts received were $429,000; 2019 amounts budgeted were $723,000 (in line with amounts received in 2018). We continue to work with the County and NYRA to better understand NYRA’s revised methodology. “The amount received in 2019 is equivalent to amounts received in 2011. Admissions are up, but the tax is down considerably. The City provides fire, police, ambulance, water, sewer, traffic, and beautification services in order to properly host the yearly meet. I believe the City requires a more equitable distribution of this tax in order to maintain our high-level of visitor and citizen protection services,” states Commissioner Madigan.

“With excellent policies and practices in place, the City ended 2019 at a strong advantage to face the unprecedented 2020 pandemic.  My years of financial discipline, preparation, budget and reserve building have provided us with a much better foundation than many coming into the current situation,” states Madigan.  

Actual 2019 revenue collected totaled $46,261,134.  Actual 2019 expenditures totaled $47,117,479.  “The City did good job managing its current budget while considering future needs. These skills will prove beneficial in the months to come.” said the Commissioner.    

The City is now in the process of reviewing its 2020 budget for adjustments that will be required in the face of a potential $14 to $16 million, or 29% to 33%, loss of general fund revenue. Sales and occupancy tax collection have already shown substantial decreases compared to 2019.  State aid revenue sharing, parking ticket revenue, NYRA general admissions tax, casino rentals, building permits, and property tax collection are all at risk.  The City has researched the option of waiving late fees and penalties for property tax bills, but it has confirmed that only the NYS Governor may do so during a State of Emergency.  

Commissioner Madigan has asked each department to scour its budget for reductions, cuts, and re-purposed funds.  Looking for a 10% budget rollback “will require a new outlook, revised priorities, and discipline.”  Madigan has great faith that “this Council has what it takes to make it work.” This is coupled with the “Hiring and Spending Freeze” requested by Madigan to the City Council on April 10, 2020.  

“Every expense must be considered very carefully, against the long and short term City sustainability, the needs of our taxpayers, and most importantly, the health, safety, and welfare of our citizens. We are beginning from a position of strength, and will do what is best for the City of Saratoga Springs.”

Saratoga County Board of Supervisors: Stepping Back And Looking at the Roots Of the Debacle

[JK: Lew Benton has had a long and distinguished career in government. He has worked for both Saratoga County and for the state of New York. He served as the Saratoga Springs Commissioner of Public Safety.

In order to understand our current crisis at the county it is critical to step back and try to understand how this all came about. This piece by Lew helps all of us find some answers.]

The state Legislature has granted fairly broad discretion in the preferred structure of government for each non-charter county.  The general limit of that authority is the principle that the legislative and executive authority remain with a single body of elected officials.” *

* Saratoga County 21st Century Study Commission Governmental Operations Task Force Report

The dustup brought about by Saratoga County’s award of 50% salary increases to certain employees and officials deemed “essential” to managing the current health emergency presents an opportunity to take a fresh look at this form of government, how it functions and why and how the office of county administrator has been allowed to morph from its defined, statutory role as manager to one of quasi-executive.

And an April 15 “Times Union” story (“County officials lament ‘vacuum’ ”) and last Friday’s ham-handed attempt to avoid a public airing of how all this came to pass serves to add urgency.

Maybe it will remain in the public conscience long enough to force a hard look at this County’s governance.

It also indicates that it may be time for the Board of Supervisors to exhume and re-examine the reasoning that led to the creation of the county administrator title in 1979 and subsequent recommendations found in such initiatives as the 1987 Governmental/Intergovernmental Operations Task Force Report.  

That Task Force, chaired by the late Charlton Supervisor Fred Hequembourg, was part of the County’s 21st Century Study Commission appointed by Roy McDonald, then chair of the Board of Superiors.

Those who knew Fred Hequembourg will recall a strong, demanding personality who was elected chair of the Board for three consecutive terms and who was a power to be reckoned with.  He was also smart and knew government. [JK: Fred Hequembourg was one of the finest persons to serve our county in my lifetime. A Republican, Fred represented, in the deepest sense, service to community.]

Perhaps the Task Force’s final report is still worth a look.  Through its staff, the Task Force examined the evolution of county government in New York.  The report noted that then 37 of the state’s 57 counties outside New York City were non-charter, looked critically at the Charter v. Non-Charter forms and what non-charter structures might better serve Saratoga County.

The Task Force made several recommendations including this: Enact a Local Law for the Creation of a County Board of Representatives by 1991.  Implicit in the recommendation was a board made, as then and now, of representatives of the each of the 19 towns and two cities and thus preserve the direct connection between the local governments and the County.

The Task Force went out of its way in making this recommendation to emphasize the following:

“The state Legislature has granted fairly broad discretion in the preferred structure of government for each non-charter county.  The general limit of that authority is the principle that the legislative and executive authority remain with a single body of elected officials.” *

* Saratoga County 21st Century Study Commission Governmental Operations Task Force Report

So in 1987, eight years after the office of county administrator was established, the Task Force   was quick to remind all that while it was suggesting transitioning from a Board of Supervisors to a Board of Representatives, both the legislative and executive authority remain with the legislative body.  

In the follow-up to the present circumstance, any review should begin with a reminder of what this county is not.  It is not a charter county.  There is no executive other than the Board of Supervisors acting in its legislative capacity and as it may, at open meeting,  authorize and direct the chairperson to act.  Such authorizations and directions are always linked to specific policies and legislation adopted by the full Board and most are ministerial in nature; i.e., directing the chair to sign and submit a specific grant application, advocate or oppose pending state legislation, etc.

Over time it appears that members of the Board have allowed the office of county administrator to morph into a de facto executive authority.  The tail seems to be wagging the dog, the inmates are running the asylum.

The Board cannot legitimately transfer or grant authority to a committee to expend monies that have not been appropriated.  It cannot increase compensation without, by formal legislation, amending the pay schedule and budget.  And it certainly cannot give that authority to an ad hoc committee or the county administrator.

Specifically, Sec. 154 of the County Law, precludes such delegation of authority:

“Nothing herein shall be deemed to authorize the delegation of any of the powers, duties or responsibilities of the board of supervisors or of any officer except as otherwise expressly authorized by law.”

But it appears that Resolution 84 – 2020 did not, in fact, authorize increasing the compensation of certain “essential employees” nor did it appropriate any monies to do so.  So what did it do?

The March 17 resolution, among other things, established a committee made of

“ … 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 …” and gave it “ … 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 … “

So the full Board of Supervisors never authorized pay increases and clearly limited the committee’s actions to those “ … 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 … “

Of course none of Cuomo’s pandemic related executive orders allow for increases in compensation outside of normal procedure.

It is only at the referenced Law and Finance Committee meeting, convened just one hour before the full Board met, that any reference to increased compensation for some employees is discussed and even then in an obtuse way.

One thing though is clear from the minutes of that meeting: staff misrepresented facts that might have influenced members.  For instance, when asked by a committee member, Todd Kusnierz, if  “ … the State and other localities were providing time and a half.  Mrs. McNamara said the state was as well as some municipalities.”  But neither the state nor other municipalities had done any such thing.

And the true intent of the full Board’s resolution is further affirmed by the budget amendments (shown below) authorized by Resolution 84 – 2020 follows:  

“ …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 …”

Note that the resolution only amends these three line items in the County’s Public Health budget. The increase of $150,000 in the Public Health Regular wages line and the additional $838,525  in the Department Supplies line are to bolster the Public Health Services capacity to respond to the emergency by adding staff – as necessary – and materials. This intent seems crystal clear by the following language in Resolution 84:

“ … 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; … “

Still, press coverage of this story continues to report that the March 17 Board action authorized the committee to award 50% increases to certain administrative and elected officials and time and a half to rank and file workers.  There is no language in the resolution which authorized such increases and there is no language that gave any such authority to the five member committee.  And the resolution made no appropriation necessary cover such additional compensation.

So how did it come to pass that the Board’s appropriation of $1,000,000

“ … 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…”

Somehow justify temporary salary increases of the county administrator, the personnel director and other administrative staff by 50%?  And how could have such increases been awarded without budget authority?  The $1,000,000 was appropriated to bring on temporary nursing staff and needed supplies as needed.

Not one penny was appropriated for any other purpose.

John Kaufman has reported that Saratoga Springs Supervisors Tara Gaston and Matthew Veitch, both of whom attended the referenced Law and Finance Committee, and later voted to adopt Resolution 84, took to social media to deny having responsibility for granting 50% raises to “essential” County workers.

Here, in part,  is what Supervisor Veitch posted on his Facebook page:

    “Yes, the County is currently operating under a policy where most of the essential employees are getting 1.5 times pay for hours worked. I was informed of this decision on March 15th by our County administration, and was not involved at all in developing this policy.

    Nowhere in that resolution does it approve or dictate time and a half rates for essential employees.”

On her Facebook page Tara Gaston offered a similar defense.

    “On March 15, 2020, administrator Hellwig notified the board of supervisors that essential workers were to receive time and a half during the COVID-19 emergency. I immediately sought details, including who created the policy.

    “On March 17, 2020, the board debated resolution 84-2020 to amend the budget. The time and a half policy was not included in the resolution and was not voted on.  Nevertheless, the topic was discussed. I requested that the pay discussion be taken to executive session to allow frank conversation about the origins and details of this policy. Chairman Allen, on the advice of county attorney Dorsey, denied the request.”

These posts support what is already known: the Board’s resolution did not authorize increased compensation.  But both supervisors say they were notified by the county administrator on March 15 that “essential” employees would be compensated at 150% of their established pay rates.

How and in what form the March 15 directive referenced by Supervisors Veitch and Gaston was transmitted and if it specifically referenced increased compensation is not mentioned.  If our supervisors would share the  administrator’s March 15 directive It would, presumably, answer lingering questions and perhaps put this entire episode in a more favorable light.

Back in 1989 Fred Hequembourg and the other members of the County’s Governmental Task Force were so prescient to warn against allowing the Board of Supervisors to forget that it is the executive authority and it cannot surrender that authority, voluntarily or otherwise.

Saratoga County Board of Supervisors: Unscrambling The April 21 Meeting

I have found a number of sources to help unscramble the April 21 meeting of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors. Wendy Liberatore has written an excellent article published yesterday (4/22) and another one published today (4/23). In addition Rob Arrigo has issued a release on behalf of the Saratoga County Libertarian Party (at end of post). Here are a few items I have gleaned.

The First Executive Session

At the beginning of the meeting there was a vote to go into executive session which would close the proceedings to the pubic. As near as I could tell at least one purpose of the executive session was to discuss the proposed agreement between the county and the union representing the corrections officers at the county jail.

The vote to go into executive session was close. The Supervisors representing Saratoga Springs split with Tara Gaston voting against going into executive session and Matthew Veitch voting for. Most of the dissident supervisors voted against going into a closed session. Had Matthew Veitch voted with Tara Gaston the meeting would have remained open.

When the Supervisors went into executive session our phones went mute. The Supervisors were in executive session for an hour and a half.

The Approving of the Corrections Officers Contract

When the Supervisors finally came out of their executive session there was a motion to approve a contract agreement with the correction officers who work for the county. As I understand it, the corrections officers have been without a contract since January 1, 2019. I am not clear how long the contract is for but the agreement reached Tuesday was retroactive to January 1, 2019. It granted the officers what was characterized as a cost of living increase of 2%. In addition they each were to receive $1,500.00. Sheriff Zullo had requested that during the COVID-19 crisis that the officers restrict their employment to their work at the county and end any outside jobs they may have had. I was told that he wanted to minimize the risk of any of his officers becoming ill. The $1,500 was to compensate for lost income from any additional work they may have been doing.

Both Tara Gaston and Matthew Veitch voted for the contract. Based on my limited information this seemed reasonable to me.

The Elimination of the COVID19 Operations Group

The meeting approved a resolution eliminating the notorious committee that authorized the time and a half raises. I do not know what the vote was on this.

The Quest For The Elusive Facts About Who Received What Raises When

Supervisor Kevin Tollisen, who represents the town of Halfmoon, attempted to clarify which county employees got raises, when the raises were initiated, when the raises were withdrawn, and how the actions were implemented and communicated.

He questioned Human Resources Director Marcy McNamara. His central question was whether employees were advised of the actions regarding their salaries and comp time changes through some sort of document like an email. He asked for a yes or no answer. What he got was a rambling narrative. His best efforts to get a simple answer were continually frustrated. At one point Ms. McNamara asserted that she had used the representatives from the respective unions to communicate the decisions to their members rather than communicating directly with county employees. This seemed truly bizarre. As far as I could tell from her responses, she and the county never created a public record of who was granted what and when. At one point she told the Supervisors that some of the employees were afraid of what would happen to them if the public learned of their raises so she claimed that she labeled their increases as “benefits.” I have no idea what that means. I do know that an agreement with a union regarding pay is supposed to be spelled out clearly and is usually uniformly implemented. In the case of public employees I believe that benefits as well as salaries are a matter of public record so I’m not sure what Ms. McNamara thought she was achieving by labeling the raises a “benefit”.

We never learned the definition of what an “essential” employee was but apparently members of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) were granted a very generous four hours comp time for each day they worked at some point.

Basically, Ms. McNamara was unable to provide any clear documentation as to who got what when. She also provided contradictory statements about who she verbally told what and when.

This segment of the meeting made me want to cringe. You didn’t know whether to feel angry at Ms. McNamara or to feel sorry for her.

A Futile Attempt To Make Good On Promises To Employees

There seemed to be a consensus that since representatives of the Board of Supervisors had made commitments to the employees to pay them additional pay and comp time that whatever the merits of such a decision, the county needed to follow through on its promises.

A motion was put forward to pay them.

The problem was that no one knew who was promised what. There was also confusion as to how overtime would be handled. In some cases New York State Law requires that overtime be paid at time and a half so paying time and a half for overtime based on a regular pay of time and a half would require some further calculations.

There followed a torturous and frustrating discussion ending in the motion being withdrawn.

An Independent Investigation

It was not surprising then when Supervisor Shopf from Clifton Park called for an independent investigation of the entire affair. As expected, the faction headed by Chair Preston Allen vociferously opposed this.

I thought that Tara Gaston was particularly effective in advocating for the investigation. Supervisor Gaston was an articulate and thoughtful voice during the entire meeting.

In the end, and much to his credit, Supervisor Veitch cast the deciding vote that approved the creation of the an independent investigation.

As readers of the blog are aware, I have been a harsh critic of Supervisor Veitch. I must say that given his many years as Supervisor working with many of the people for whom this investigation will probably be painful, his willingness to vote in the affirmative could not have been easy and he deserves much credit.

Given his extensive knowledge of our county government he will hopefully play a constructive role in bringing about much needed reform.

Human Resources Committee Charged With Reporting Back Who Got What

The Supervisors plan to meet in a special session in two weeks. In an attempt to resolve the issue of compensation for the employees they directed the Board’s Human Resources Committee to come back with a breakdown of who got what and when so that a plan can be crafted.

[JK: Libertarian Press Release]

Libertarian Advocacy Pays off in County Pay Scandal

In an unprecedented move Saratoga County appoints special counsel to investigate

Ballston Spa— For Immediate Release At the April 21 Board of Supervisors meeting a resolution to resolve the ongoing pay scandal led to an extended executive session and extreme confusion amongst Supervisors.  After much discussion it was unclear when the 50% pay raise began, when it ended, exactly who authorized it, if any outstanding pay was owed to employees.  Also unclear was whether or not Human Resources Director Marcy McNamara had an obligation to notify employees or if the three Union Presidents representing County Employees were to do so after being notified.  Whether or not those meetings happened is also in question. 

Supervisor Jonathan Shopf’s motion to retain and appoint outside counsel to investigate and report back to the board carried.  A second motion was made and carried to allow human resources to get their story straight and report back.   It is unclear why the Board feels both investigations are needed, although two factions are clearly developing. 

It is important to note that at this meeting public comment was relegated to written comments only that were not read, only handed out and ignored by Supervisors, stifling 29 county residents who were not heard.

Unprecedented Special Counsel:
Supervisors and the County Attorney are not sure exactly how to exercise Shopf’s motion. To our knowledge the last time the county retained outside council was in 2015 when it investigated an affair that Human Resources Director, Jack Kalinkewicz was having with his secretary.   The Saratoga County Libertarian Committee applauds Supervisor Shopf and all of those who voted to restore the County to order.  It is possible several laws have been broken including open meeting law.


A Committee of 5: Administrator Hellwig, Chairman Allen,  Director McNamara, Supervisor Wood of Saratoga and Supervisor Pemrick of Greenfield was appointed in March to oversee the County’s emergency response.  This group immediately raised pay for field employees, then improperly reversed it and has been hiding ever since, canceling public meetings. After a sprint of bad judgement this group and their allies have engaged in a marathon of corruption to cover.

The Saratoga Libertarian Committee has been organizing, petitioning and advocating for a restoration to regular meetings at a time when the County’s Dept of Health is more important than ever, Supervisors and Administrators are mismanaging the county without public comment.

Going Forward:

The SCLC’s demands that regular meetings be restored and an outside council be retained to investigate this scandal have been met.  We continue to demand that Administrator Hellwig and Director McNamara resign, that Chairman Allen resign or be put to a vote of no confidence, and a resolution be made and posted in places of work at the County to apologize to affected workers for using them as pawns.

“It is clear the administration is not telling the truth.  Employees are angry, Supervisors are angry and the public, who has to pay for all this nonsense, is angry.  Is it worth it to keep Hellwig, McNamara and Allen in place? We don’t think so.” SCLC Chairman, Rob Arrigo said.

Saratoga County Board of Supervisors: A Meeting Whose Turmoil Mirrors The County’s Mismanagement

In order to listen to the April 21, 2020, meeting of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, you had to call in to a posted number. The quality of the sound was appalling. This added an almost comic dimension to a meeting that was pure chaos. In one instance, Director of Human Resources Marcy McNamara was asked by a question by a Supervisor that the Supervisor made clear required a simple yes or no answer. What followed was at least fifteen minutes of Ms. McNamara’s wandering consciousness occasionally interrupted by the Supervisor’s repeated request that she answer his question.

For those of you who listened in and were baffled by the proceedings, be of good cheer, I feel fairly confident that the Supervisors present were equally baffled. If there were ever the need for proof regarding the incompetence of the leadership of our county government, listening to their meeting would be the gold standard.

The Open Meetings Law requires that they make available the transcript of the meeting (unlike Saratoga Springs they do not video the meeting and post it). Without the transcript it will be extremely difficult to report on what happened. I will try to reach out to my contacts to get their input on what occurred and do a later post.

A Eulogy That Tells It All

At the beginning of the meeting a Supervisor gave a long eulogy for Mindy Wormuth. The speaker did not think to identify himself but I assume it was Supervisor Preston Allen who is Chair of the Board. Ms. Wormuth was the Supervisor for the town of Halfmoon prior to the scandal that resulted in her resignation and her going to jail. I covered this story at some length in a post I did regarding Supreme Court Justice Chauvin. Justice Chauvin was the town attorney for Halfmoon at the time and his role in this scandal was the subject of an investigative story in the Times Union.

The eulogy went on at some length with the kind of praise one would have expected for a beloved family member. I do not like to speak ill of the dead but the reality is that she exploited her office for personal gain for which she was caught and punished with fines and jail time. The myopia of her eulogy reflects the basic blindness to ethics, procedure, and openness that has infected our county government.

In 2013, Wormuth was asked to resign from her post by town board members following FBI probes into her business dealings. Wormuth was arrested on Oct. 18, 2013 and sentenced in December 2015 to a year and one day in federal prison for taking cash bribes in exchange for using her government position to lobby state and Saratoga County officials. Wormuth admitted stealing thousands of dollars from a campaign account in a series of thefts dating to 2009.

Times Union April 19,2020

Saratoga County Board of Supervisor: They will meet tomorrow (April 21, 2020)

The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors will meet tomorrow, Tuesday, April 21, in Ballston Spa at 3 PM. I spoke to Saratoga Springs Supervisor Tara Gaston today about the meeting. I was concerned about the Supervisors meeting in person given the restrictions on gatherings and the need for social distancing.

She explained to me that they will not be meeting in their normal room due to the need for social distancing. She told me the room selected will allow for spacing out the seats. Supervisors who are concerned about the risk can participate remotely.

The decision was made to meet in person after the many technical difficulties experienced in the remote special meeting held on Friday.

People can listen in to this meeting and can submit comments that will be read by the Clerk at the meeting.

To listen in at 4:00 PM tomorrow (April 21) you can call 1-844-855-4444 and enter the Participation Passcode 823993#

To submit comments you can send an email to

Some Thoughts About the Resolution on Tomorrow’s Agenda Offered by Preston Allen/Spencer Hellwig

At the aborted Supervisor meeting last Friday, there was a resolution on the agenda that was meant to reset the County’s management of the COVID-19 emergency. I believe the source of the resolution was not only the chair of the Board of Supervisors, Preston Allen, but the County Administrator, Spencer Hellwig. The reality is that Spencer Hellwig is a major player , if not the major player, in shaping the county’s policies.

While I have some reservations regarding the appointments made to this new committee that would oversee the county’s responses to the pandemic, it does address a number of the concerns arising from the actions of the previous committee set up to address the pandemic.

It includes:

  1. Disbanding the Covid Operation Group. This is the committee that implemented and then retracted the salary increases.
  2. Establishing a new committee made up entirely of Supervisors. While the committee would be stacked in favor of the current leadership of the county it would include three Supervisors who signed the letter challenging the county’s management of the response to the pandemic
  3. It explicitly affirms that this new committee will be subject to the open meetings law.
  4. It directs the committee to submit its recommendations for actions to the Law and Finance Committee. The Law and Finance Committee approves resolutions that go to the full Board of Supervisors. This charge should insure that any actions enjoy the support of the full Board of Supervisors.

It appears that the public outcry has had an effect. Overall I think it appears to be a good resolution.

This is the text of the original resolution

RESOLUTION 90 – 2020
Introduced by Chairman Allen
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 over 246 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, on April 15, 2020, the Chair of this Board issued Executive Order No. 4 of 2020 renewing his proclamation of a State of Emergency in Saratoga County due to the continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic for an additional period of thirty (30) days effective at 12:00 pm on April 15, 2020; 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 non-essential personnel shall total no less than 50% of the total number of employees of each local government; and

WHEREAS, Resolution 84-2020 of this Board granted 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 the temporary 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

WHEREAS, the COVID-19 pandemic is having, and will continue to have, significant adverse impacts on the national, state and local economies through the closing of businesses, high unemployment rates, unpaid real property taxes, and substantially lower sales tax and occupancy tax revenues, in addition to increased health care and related costs associated with combatting the COVID-19 pandemic; and

WHEREAS, those employees staffing the County’s COVID-19 Command Center and the employees of Saratoga County Public Health Services who are at the forefront of the County’s efforts to combat and address the COVID-19 crisis are experiencing high levels of work-related stress; and

WHEREAS, this Board needs to provide a coordinated response to address the many operational and budgetary challenges facing the County during the COVID-19 disaster emergency and the recovery period that will follow, and it is therefore appropriate that a special committee of this Board be created pursuant to County Law §154 to provide such coordinated response; now, therefore be it

RESOLVED, that a special committee of this Board consisting of seven (7) members to be known as the COVID-19 Planning Committee is hereby created effective immediately and for a term continuing through December 31, 2020, which special committee shall have the powers and duties specified hereafter; and be it further

RESOLVED, that COVID-19 Planning Committee shall coordinate the County’s response to the COVID-19 disaster emergency, which coordination shall include, but not be limited to, obtaining and evaluating critical economic and revenue data for the County; making recommendations to the Law and Finance Committee for County operational and staffing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic and the recovery period to follow; making recommendations to the Law and Finance Committee relative to the hiring of additional medical professional and clerical staff for Saratoga County Public Health Services Emergency Preparedness Program team; making recommendations to the Law and Finance Committee as to the provision of additional personal time to those CSEA employees working directly in the County’s COVID-19 Command Center; and making recommendations to the Law and Finance Committee for proposed amendments to the 2020 Saratoga County Budget; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the COVID-19 Planning Committee shall meet biweekly or at the call of its Chair; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the COVID-19 Planning Committee shall report its findings and recommendations directly to the Law and Finance Committee for such further action as the Law and Finance Committee shall deem appropriate; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the meetings of the COVID-19 Planning Committee shall be subject to the provisions of the Open Meetings Law of the State of New York, and the Committee’s records and the records of its proceedings shall be subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Law of the State of New York; and

RESOLVED, that Resolution 84-2020 is hereby amended to delete the eighth

RESOLVED paragraph of said Resolution that authorized 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 to jointly determine appropriate County employee staffing levels and rates of compensation that were 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.


Saratoga County Board of Supervisors: A Secret Sweetheart Deal

The agenda for the aborted April 17, 2020, special meeting of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors contained a seemingly innocuous item:

Approving Collective Bargaining Agreement with Saratoga County Sheriff Officers Association, Inc. (Corrections Unit) for 2019

It turns out that this agreement with the Corrections Officers bargaining unit would have granted each officer $1,500.00 plus a 2% raise for the year retroactive to January 1, 2019.

WAMC reporter Lucas Willard reported the following from an email he received earlier from County Administrator Spencer Hellwig regarding County employee salaries:

“…no county employees are currently receiving time-and-a-half. The change was made in a decision by the COVID oversight group on April 2nd, effective April 3rd.”

Hellwig also wrote:

“items discussed during CBA [JK:collective bargaining agreement] negotiations with Public Safety unions are to be kept confidential.”

My reading of all this is that Hellwig, Preston Allen and their allies attempted to take the heat off themselves by increasingly dialing back on who was receiving the time and a half raises until, after a secret meeting on April 2, they were all eliminated. Reneging on these promised raises , however, lead to union grievances which now had to be addressed. Their hope was that an agreement with the Corrections Officers that had been discussed behind closed doors without the knowledge or participation of many if not most of the Supervisors could slide past with a quick approval at the end of the special meeting. All these salary agreements are being presented without any analysis of what the state of the county’s finances may be as this crisis continues.

I understand the other members of the Deputy Sheriffs Union are still in negotiations.

I expect that the insurgents will insist on answers when the Board of Supervisors holds its regular monthly on Tuesday.

Saratoga County Board of Supervisors: Kaboom! and then silence…

The special meeting of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors ended before it began.

The Weighted Vote

In our county Supervisors represent municipalities whose populations vary radically. According to the United States Bureau of Census the city of Saratoga Springs population is 28,005 whereas the the town of Day has a population of 806. So Saratoga Springs has approximately thirty-five times the population of the town of Day.

When the Supervisors vote, the value placed on each Supervisor’s vote is based on the population of the municipality they represent. So when Preston Allen votes, his vote is recorded as 806. The vote of the two Saratoga Springs Supervisors (if they vote the same way) would equal 28,005. This is the meaning of a “weighted vote.”

There are twenty-one towns and cities in Saratoga County. Seven municipalities have 70% of the population. Pardon the pun. The Supervisors from those seven towns carry a lot of weight.

The Meeting

At 3:00 PM today (April 17, 2020) the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors convened their special meeting.

Because the meeting was held using Zoom, those wishing to listen did so by dialing a telephone number. Whoever was managing the technology was apparently inexperienced because at least one Supervisor was connected by both their computer and their phone so there were intermittent squawks of feedback.

The meeting began with a roll call to determine who was present. Before any business could be transacted, however, the Supervisors had to vote on a motion to “ratify” the meeting.

The Clerk of the Board again went through the roll call to record the vote. Only two Supervisors commented before voting. Supervisor O’Connor from Malta briefly stated that he was voting to oppose the motion because the business was better addressed at a regular meeting of the Board. Supervisor Tollisen simply said he agreed with O’Connor and voted no.

Saratoga Springs Supervisors Matthew Veitch and Tara Gaston were among those voting no.

The final weighted vote was 36% for and 64% against ratifying the meeting thus no business could be conducted.

Following the clerk’s declaration that the motion had failed, Chair of the Board, Preston Allen, called for a motion to adjourn. There was a voice vote to do so and that was it…

A Stunning Event

I have observed the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors for over forty years. During all those years the organization has been dominated by a very hierarchical Republican Party. The operation has been largely opaque. All decisions were decided prior to the Board of Supervisors meetings and other than some ceremonial events they simply ran through the resolutions approving them.

As readers may recall, County Administrator Spencer Hellwig boasted to the Times Union that he was confident that the Board would approve suspending Rule #1 thus cancelling future regular Board meetings. By first voting down ratifying the meeting, the Board never even took up Rule #1.

What made Hellwig and Board Chair Preston Allen, who called the special meeting and determined the agenda, believe they had the votes?

The late Jaspar Nolan was chair of the Saratoga County Republican Party for many years. I knew Jaspar well. He was on my board of directors when I ran the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council. He would never have allowed this conflict to fester and then explode in public, especially during a pandemic when the role of county government is especially important.

After the debacle with the pay raises one would have expected the County Administrator Spencer Hellwig and Supervisor Allen and their allies to try to reach out and repair the damage. Instead they seem to have doubled down.

Given the restraint of the dissident Supervisors I observed in the Zoom meeting they held last week I felt it was apparent that they would have liked to work something out.

It is really hard to grasp how truly incompetent the leadership of the County is. It will be interesting to see what happens when the Supervisors convene their regular meeting on Tuesday.

How To Listen To Friday’s Special Meeting of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors

People interested in listening to the special meeting tomorrow, Friday, April 17, 2020 at 3:00 PM can do so by calling 1-844-855-4444 and entering the code 823993#.

This is a link to the agenda.

It is interesting that item #6 reads “Authorizing the creation of a COVID-19 ad hoc committee.” Conspicuously absent is the actual text of the resolution. We have no idea how broad is powers will be or what precisely its mission will be.

Saratoga County Board of Supervisors: More Surprises!

No one should assume that the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors is a monolithic group. In a later post I will be discussing a Zoom meeting I attended of a group of dissident Supervisors who very much oppose what is going on. I find the boldness of the current faction in power to completely marginalize these Supervisors who represent roughly seventy percent of the residents of the County quite stunning. These dissident Supervisors are completely in the dark as to who is being paid what at the County. They are no more informed about what is going on in our County than the readers of this blog. I find it stunning to write this.

WAMC’s Lucas Willard contacted the County Administrator, Spencer Hellwig, regarding the County’s pay controversy. Hellwig responded in an email revealing a recent action that has been taken regarding county salaries.

Poof! No more raises (maybe)

As the readers of this blog will recall, the Board of Supervisors empowered a committee comprised of three Supervisors, County Administrator Hellwig, and the County Human Resources Director to basically run the Saratoga County government. The Supervisors gave them the authority to grant raises and create new employment positions. I had previously referred to this committee as the “special” committee because up to now it had no public name. Based on Hellwig’s email we now know its name. It is called the “COVID Oversight Group (COG).”

According to Mr. Hellwig’s email, on April 2 the COG, in violation of the Open Meetings Law, voted to cancel the raises of however many employees were still receiving them at that point. As all of this was done behind closed doors with no records of their proceedings, we have no idea how many people this entailed or who they were.

Complicating the murkiness of all of this was the following:

In response to a question related to some county employees promised time-and-a-half, only for that pay rate to be reduced later, Administrator Hellwig said in an email that all related concerns from county employees have been addressed. In addition, Hellwig added in part that “items discussed during CBA [JK: Acronym meaning?] negotiations with Public Safety unions are to be kept confidential.”

Lucas Willard April 15 story

I am not sure who is represented by the Public Safety unions but at a minimum I would assume it would be the Saratoga County Deputy Sheriffs and the correctional officers who staff the county jail. We are and will, at least in the foreseeable future, be unsure of the status of their salaries both present and past.

I would hazard a guess that while Mr. Hellwig and the faction of Supervisors who support him may believe that he/they have addressed “all related concerns from county employees,” I suspect that there may be County employees out there who do not share this view.

Based on the Zoom meeting I attended, I can assure the readers of this blog that the Supervisors representing the majority of residents of our county had no idea that any of this had occurred.

In his email to Lucas Willard Spencer Hellwig also addressed the issue of suspending Rule #1 at the special Supervisor meeting that has been called for Friday. As readers will recall suspending Rule #1 would allow the cancelling of regularly scheduled Supervisor meetings. If the motion to do this is defeated the regular Supervisor meeting on Tuesday would have to be convened.

In his email, Administrator Hellwig said the item regarding the suspension of Rule #1 “will afford the County the opportunity to address operational needs and I have no reason to believe this would not be approved.”

Lucas Willard April 15, 2020 WAMC

I find the Administrator’s comments more than odd.

First, how would cancelling the regular meeting of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors “…afford the County the opportunity to address operational needs”?

Secondly, why is Administrator Hellwig so confident that a motion to suspend Rule #1 will pass? Indications now are that a weighted vote would defeat this.

I guess we will find out shortly.