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.
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.