Saratoga County Government: Steering Wheel Broken, It Drifts Leaking Money

The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors will not be meeting in April as required by their bylaws. As far as I can tell, this is the first time ever that the Supervisors have not met for their regular monthly meeting. In fact, whoever canceled the meeting (it is presumed that Preston Allen, the chair of the Board of Supervisors did it) didn’t even bother to send out a notice to the Supervisors of the cancellation. This means that if, and that is a big if, they meet in May they will have gone two months without a meeting. Their calendar, posted on their website, has had all the dates for sub committee meetings removed as well.

During this historic crisis there have been no meeting minutes posted on the county’s website since their last meeting on March 17. Officially then the county legislature has turned out the lights.

The contrast to Saratoga Springs government is quite stunning. Our city adheres to the Open Meetings Law so scrupulously that three or more members of the Council never get together to talk because that would constitute a quorum which would require proper notice to the public. They do have emergency meetings but in the event the Council convenes, the public and the press are notified and within days, a video of their meeting is posted.

In light of the requirement that the Board of Supervisors meet monthly I tried to find out who canceled all the meeting. Based on their comments at the last city council meeting, our two Supervisors appear to be completely ignorant about how and why the April meeting was canceled.

So one wonders who is running the County? The best guess is the five person “special committee” (it still has no name) that has been blundering through salary changes. It includes Supervisor Preston Allen, two other Supervisors, County Administrator Spencer Hellwig, and Human Resources Director Marcy McNamara.

The eleven Supervisors who wrote to Chair Preston Allen and who represent 72% of the population/weighted vote in the County are one vote short of the required twelve votes to compel a special meeting. So a group of twelve Supervisors representing the small towns in the County and with a tiny percentage of weight were there to be a vote on a policy, are blocking the special meeting. Chair Preston Allen represents the town of Day. He represents a weighted vote of 879, the population of the town he represents .

In a release from the Saratoga County Libertarian Party, its chair Rob Arrigo pretty much sums up the situation.

“[Chair of the Board of Supervisor Preston] Allen and [County Administrator Spencer] Hellwig are using the crisis to hold democracy hostage;” said Rob Arrigo Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Saratoga County.  “Municipalities all over the state have found ways to hold regularly scheduled meetings, including Saratoga Springs which has held virtual city council meetings.  The County Leadership needs to find a way to immediately return to regular order.”

Rob Arrigo, Chair of the Saratoga Libertarian Party

An Extreme Violation of the Open Meetings Law

All of this is made possible because Saratoga County government flaunts the Open Meetings Law. Any official body making substantive decisions is required to notify the public of when they are going to meet. They must provide the public a vehicle for observing the meeting. Most importantly, they must publish the deliberations of the body at a location available to the public. None of this is being done by the committee the Board of Supervisors unanimously authorized to make staffing and payroll decisions during this COVID crisis.

The City Council Questions Our County Supervisors

At the last Saratoga Springs City Council meeting, Commissioner of Public Safety Robin Dalton and Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan both asked pointed questions of Supervisors Matthew Veitch and Tara Gaston. While the two Supervisors expressed their opposition to the decisions made by the County regarding the employee raise debacle, they seemed quite lost as to what is going on at the County.

These are videos from the April 7 meeting of the council that focus on the questioning of the supervisors.


Full text of Libertarian Release

For Immediate Release

Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Refuses to Meet

In wake of emergency pay raise scandal County Admin and BOS Chair cancel meeting

Ballston Spa— For Immediate ReleaseIn early March the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors established an emergency committee.  This committee meets in secret, has no name and no oversight. The committee of 5 was established to take emergency action during the Covid-19 Pandemic during the period of time between regularly scheduled meetings of the board of supervisors. 

This committee immediately used its power to establish 50% pay raises, at a cost of $325,000/week, for 380 essential employees, including salaried management personnel. 

After massive public pressure, and a revolt of the 10 Supervisors whom never intended for this power to be used under current conditions, the pay raise was rolled back for elected officials, management personnel and field employees, and left in place for emergency “command center” employees. The Committee of 5 includes BOS Chair Preston Allen of the Town of Day, County Administrator Spencer Hellwig, Director of HR Marcy McNamara, Supervisor Pemerick of Greenfield and Supervisor Wood of the Town of Saratoga.  It’s worth noting that Hellwig and McNamara originally received the raise along with various elected officials, DMV employees and other clerical and HR staff who continued working through the Governor’s PAUSE order.
Emergency Meeting Refused

In late March a group of Supervisors representing 72% of the County’s weighted vote repeatedly demanded an emergency meeting to resolve the pay raise issue.  Chairman Allen blocked that effort leaving Sheriff’s deputies, Nurses, Social Services Workers and other front-line field employees in limbo while call center employees continued received 50% pay raises.

Regular Meeting Canceled

            Despite assertion by Preston Allen and Spencer Hellwig that the pay raise scandal would be addressed, the regular April 21 meeting has been quietly removed from the County BOS calendar with no notification or justification to Supervisors.  Allen and Hellwig have not made a statement or justified the cancelation. 

“Allen and Hellwig are using the crisis to hold democracy hostage;” said Rob Arrigo Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Saratoga County.  “Municipalities all over the state have found ways to hold regularly scheduled meetings, including Saratoga Springs which has held virtual city council meetings.  The County Leadership needs to find a way to immediately return to regular order;” said Arrigo.

Going Forward

The Committee of 5 cannot be stopped without a meeting of the Board of Supervisors.  Town of Clifton Park Supervisor Phil Barrett is leading a group representing 72% of the weighted vote in the County to reign in this reckless activity and proactively adjust the budget to reflect the precipitous drop in sales tax revenue, as well as the probability that the 2020 Saratoga Flat Track Meet will be canceled or severely curtailed. 

The Libertarian County Committee joins these fiscally responsible Supervisors in calling for an immediate emergency meeting of the board and a return to regular order.

###

For more information, press only:

Craig Berndt, Vice Chair Libertarian Committee of Saratoga County

SaratogaLPNY@gmail.com

9 thoughts on “Saratoga County Government: Steering Wheel Broken, It Drifts Leaking Money”

  1. The county is being run by an unaccountable administrator, Hellwig.

    I’ve been following this issue from day 1. The more I dig, the more I believe that this pay raise scheme was created by Hellwig to boost his own pay.

    Remember, not one, of the three labor unions representing county employees asked for an increase in pay.

    The raises came at the request of Spencer and Marcy.

    And now, because they fear political retribution, county leadership has resorted to cancelling board meetings.

    Why? Because they are in the minority. That’s why.

    This level of corruption needs to be stamped out.

    I fear that it has gone on for a long time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rob articulates the issues perfectly. I’ve said it here once and I will say it again- both Spencer and Marcy should be relieved of duty, this is OUR MONEY they are frivolously wasting away and it needs to end. As does their time with the county.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Saratoga County employees – Thank you for continuing to operate the county and keeping the public safe and healthy!!

    Spencer Hellwig – So many missing pieces to account for. The blunders of the county leadership team just keep coming day after day. What can we expect from your team in the days to come?

    Preston Allen – You not only refuse to hold an emergency meeting to address the staffing and pay policies that your “committee of 5” implemented at the cost of $325,000 per week, but you are now hiding from the public and your peers by canceling the April board meeting. Your job is to ensure government is being run properly and ethically. Where is the breakdown? Why play politics? Your Thoughts? Comments?

    Secondly, on Friday April 10th, after one month of a state of emergency, the county has finally decided to establish a Covid 19 committee. Seven Supervisors were hand selected by Preston Allen to manage the crisis at the county level. “We must continue to work together to flatten the curve, and this committee will oversee and organize County resources to further support this task.” I understand that there is a county emergency crisis process, but I am dumbfounded that this Covid 19 committee is just now being assembled.

    I praise all of the county employees who have found their own ways to navigate their jobs under this internal chaos. I do hope the county is being more supportive and communicative to the employees than they are to the public.

    Stay safe and Wash your hands!

    Steve

    Like

    1. Here’s your answer from Preston:
      Unfortunately, a dump truck full of platitudes and CYA’s IMHO…

      https://www.saratogian.com/news/local-news/readers-view-special-message-from-saratoga-county-board-of-supervisors-chairman-preston-allen/

      The optics surrounding the handling of this episode remain horrible. Supervisor Allen’s complete oblivious attitude is a major miscue. Perhaps he thought their $$ grab would go unnoticed in all the virus tumult.

      Big mistake. We’re all at home – with nothing to do but comment as these cronies try to extricate themselves from a hook they bit into willingly.

      Kudos, John. This is going to get good.

      Like

      1. Their behavior is comical and juvenile with zero depth to this most recent readers view. I’d still like to hear from more than just Preston. If there are no meetings, how is he speaking on behalf of the board?

        Wash your hands!

        Like

  4. 1. So called professional manager who apparently voted for his own pay raise.
    2. One powerful political leader.
    3. Ward system.
    4. Minority of voters controlling the legislative body.
    5. Weak politicians and administrators hiding from the voters and press.

    Saratoga County government is run exactly like the proposed city manager form of government which has been a disaster during this crisis. No reason this closed system will work any better for Saratoga Springs.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Saratoga business is in a state of collapse.
    None of this is going to matter if we don’t get our economy up and running.

    Have ANY of you been downtown on Broadway lately?
    You all should be concerned.

    -JC

    Like

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