Saratoga County Board of Supervisors: A Special Meeting Called to Add A Useless Level Of Bureaucracy

On Monday April 13, at approximately 3:00 PM Preston Allen, the chair of the Board of Supervisors, notified his fellow supervisors that there would be a specially convened board meeting on Friday. Given the restrictions on gatherings and social distancing it is not clear where or how this meeting will be convened.

Now it may seem odd that he would call for a special meeting on Friday when he canceled the regular monthly meeting that should have convened on Tuesday. Why should two business days matter?

The answer is that a specially called meeting is limited to the agenda accompanying the notification. Chairman Allen most definitely has a very limited meeting planned. Aside from some routine matters, the only other items on the agenda are:

  1. Suspension of Rule 1. Rule 1 requires the convening of a regular monthly meeting of the full board. Having already removed the April meeting from the calendar on the county website, I guess he now believes he needs the approval of the full Board of Supervisors to cancel the meeting.
  2. The establishment of an additional special committee of the Board of Supervisors to oversee the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is certain method to this craziness. A specially called meeting can only address items on the agenda as specified in the notice. As noted in my last post, Chairman Allen has already selected the members of the proposed new COVID committee and the majority is loyal to him. So it appears he hopes to both establish his hand picked committee and call out of order any attempt to take action that would undo the mess of the last month.

In the meantime, to add to the confusion, there is no proposed action item on the agenda to revoke the authority of the “special” (it has no name) committee empowered to determine staffing and raises. As readers may recall, the committee is made up of three supervisors, county administer Spencer Hellwig, and Human Resources Director Marcy McNamara. So Chairman Allen’s newly proposed committee appears to be an additional layer of impotent bureaucracy. It has no real power to do anything as the actual power remains with the “special” committee.

There is a glaring problem with this strategy. Adopting motions are based on a weighted vote where the representatives of the larger municipalities enjoy a wide margin. It is unlikely he can pass either of these two items. Convening a meeting knowing that it is unlikely he has the votes to approve his resolutions seems to be just another example of the general incompetence of his faction.

It would normally be logical that if the Board refused to suspend rule 1, then Chairman Allen would be compelled to convene the regular meeting the following Tuesday at which time he would lose control of the agenda. This of course assumes that the county adheres to proper procedure. The track record in this regard is not encouraging. It will be interesting to see how this drama plays out.

Making things even more interesting, is the status of the illusive agenda meeting. The meeting which normally meets on the Wednesday the week before the regular Board meeting has disappeared from the county’s calendar. As Rule 1 has not been suspended, the Board of Supervisors rules of order require that it be convened. Representatives from the larger municipalities have indicated they plan to show up for the mystery event.

Wendy Liberatore has a good story covering a “Zoom” meeting held by the dissident Supervisors that was open to the press and addressed all this.

She sought a comment from Chairman Allen who did not return her call but the public relations firm hired by the County did with a bland email statement. It kind of adds insult to injury that the taxpayer should have to pay for someone to answer questions put to the County’s elected officials.

Saratoga County Supervisors: a Pathetic Attempt to Quell the Controversy

The chair of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, Preston Allen, appeared twice in the Saratogian over the week end.

Sunday’s paper had a Readers View in which Allen praised everyone for doing a great job with few specifics about what county officials were actually doing “around the clock” to earn those time and a half salaries. For instance he says the Director of Human Resources, Marcy McNamara, (who served on the committee that gave her the time and a half raise) is “actively working with personnel and labor unions to ensure all operational needs are being met”- whatever that means. I suspect this was something written by the public relations firm the County uses.

In its April 10 edition the Saratogian reported that Preston Allen intends to create a new committee to “further oversee” the County’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. There was no explanation as to how this committee’s responsibilities will differ from those of the committee the Supervisor’s set up to institute the time and a half raises.

This committee (which also doesn’t have a name) will be chaired by Town of Northumberland Supervisor Bill Peck who chairs the Public Safety Committee. The other appointees are as follows:

  • Town of Saratoga Supervisor Tom Wood, Chair of the Human Resource & Insurance Committee
  • Town of Charlton Supervisor Alan Grattidge, Chair of the Public Works Committee
  • Town of Waterford Supervisor Jack Lawler, Chair of the Economic Development Committee
  • Town of Malta Supervisor Darren O’Connor, Member Health and Social Services Committee
  • Town of Milton Supervisor Benny Zlotnick, Member Health and Social Services Committee
  • City of Saratoga Springs Supervisors Matt Veitch, Chair of the Buildings and Grounds Committee

The first and most glaring thing about this committee is that a majority of its members are the hard core faction (Peck, Lawler, Grattidge, Wood) who were instrumental in bringing us the time and a half salary debacle and who continue to block the ability of the Board of Supervisors to hold a special meeting to address this mess. It is chaired by a member of that faction.

According to the Saratogian Allen will be seeking the approval of the Board of Supervisors to set up this committee. This is interesting since this month’s Supervisors’ meeting has disappeared off the calendar and the majority of this committee’s members have refused to join those Supervisors who have been attempting to call a special meeting.

Preston Allen’s choice of Saratoga Springs Supervisor Matthew Veitch for the committee raises many concerns.

Supervisor Matthew Veitch is quiet spoken and one of the nicest people you would ever want to meet. He has always shown the greatest courtesy to me in spite of the harsh criticisms that have appeared a number of times on this blog. The problem with Supervisor Veitch is that he has always been a team player with the faction that has run our County for decades and which has demonstrated the worst kind of incompetence and cronyism. I regret that being nice is not enough. His silence during the fiascoes that he has participated in cannot be ignored.

The Great Siemens Fiasco

As just one example, there was the Seimans fiasco. Many years ago Siemans convinced Warren and Saratoga County to pay them to build co-generation plants to provide heat and electricity to their respective county owned nursing homes. The plants were supposed to save the counties millions.

According to a story that ran in the Post Star Newspaper, an enterprising watchdog in Warren County did some research and discovered that their co-generation plant would never recover the $3,500,000.00 they spent to build it.

..a criminal investigation last year focused on a natural gas-powered energy generation system installed at Westmount Health Facility in 2005 [JK: The story was written in 2016], at a cost of $3.5 million.

The Westmount probe followed an independent review of the system that showed Siemens’ reports of energy savings from the facility were inaccurate at best and fraudulent at worst. No criminal charges resulted from the investigation, however.

Siemens refused to answer questions for this story and has repeatedly issued prepared statements saying the company stands behind its efforts here and has lived up to all of its contractual obligations.

Post Star February 14, 2016

When Saratoga County sold their nursing home the company that purchased it did so on the basis that they would not have to buy the co-generation plant. They saw it for what it was. A financial black hole.

I wrote to Supervisor Veitch at the time calling on him to see that the history of the County’s project be made public. How much did it originally cost and how much did it “save” each year? At the time he was either the chair of the Board of Supervisors or had just relinquished the chair. He refused to comment saying that the County was putting that behind them. It was never investigated and we will probably never learn how much of our money was wasted nor will we discover why the County did not sue Siemens. No one was ever held accountable for this financial disaster. Supervisor Veitch has an open invitation to defend the Seimens project on this blog. I will put up whatever he writes unedited.

Supervisor Veitch is one of the three members of this new committee who signed a letter calling for a special meeting to address the County’s salary debacle. Although he signed the letter, he has claimed ignorance as to how the salaries came about even though he was present at both the committee and full board meetings where they were discussed. At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting he and Supervisor Gaston were unable to answer any of the questions posed to them by Council members.

Now, when Preston Allen asked him to be on this new committee did Supervisor Veitch ask for any of the information he was unable to provide at the City Council meeting? Did he ask when the special meeting was going to be scheduled? Without assurances that he and the rest of the Supervisors would be put back in the information and decision making loop, agreeing to join this committee only lends legitimacy to a move by Allen to appear to be responding to criticism without actually doing anything other than creating a new committee that his faction can control.

Regrettably Supervisor Veitch’s cooperation with this new committee may be simply an extension of his years of silence representing Saratoga Springs on the County Board.

A Petition

Rob Arrigo who chairs the Libertarian Party has started a petition drive calling for the Board of Supervisors to convene a special meeting to address the controversy over the pay increases. He also calls for the removal of County Administrator Spencer Hellwig and Human Resource Director Marcy McNamara.

Link to petition

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

Mayor Kelly Comes To Aid Of Shelters of Saratoga To House Homeless After County Turns Them Down

After being rebuffed by Saratoga County’s Department of Social Services in their search for safe housing for the homeless, Shelters of Saratoga (SOS) got help from Saratoga Springs Mayor Kelly to secure a place.

There are excellent stories on this by Wendy Liberatore in the Times Union, by staff at the Saratogian, and by Steve Williams in the Gazette.

Karen Gregory, the Executive Director of SOS, repeatedly requested assistance in finding temporary housing for the homeless from the County DSS only to be rebuffed.

“I made several requests to Saratoga County to move our shelters into a local hotel before someone was symptomatic or tested positive for COVID-19. I was told over and over again that would not be possible until somebody tested positive, although I explained at that point it would be too late and I was afraid we would have a shelter full of very sick people including my staff. Ultimately, I did not want anyone to die.”

Karen Gregory from SOS press release

Tina Potter, the Commissioner of the Saratoga County Department of Social Services, defended her actions to the Times Union:

“I provided to her all the regulations and guidance that we have received from the (state) Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, the CDC and the New York State Department of Health. … What that said was non-symptomatic people currently in shelter should remain in shelter. … It indicated it is important to have rooms available for use by people who are directed to be quarantined and it would not be appropriate to move non-symptomatic, non-quarantined people into the hotel rooms we may need for individuals who are symptomatic.”

Tina Potter, Commissioner of Saratoga County Department of Social Services

The problem is that at the current shelter beds are quite close together which conflicts with the other New York State advisory that people should practice “Social Distancing.”

Homeless people are not only at increased risk but they can put the rest of the community at increased risk should they get sick. I really hate to point out the cost efficiency issue here as for me the moral imperative is the real issue. Nevertheless, what do readers of this blog think the cost of hospitalizing one homeless person stricken with the virus would be as compared to putting up forty people at a discount at the Holiday Inn? How many homeless people would contract the disease if they were crammed together in the shelter and one of them became infected? What about the additional stress on Saratoga Hospital and its staff?

“Our number one priority is the health and safety of people we are helping each day. Social distancing and hygiene is the only way to slow the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, people experiencing homelessness don’t have the ability to stay home. People experiencing homelessness don’t have regular access to sinks where they can wash their hands and those staying at homeless shelters can’t always remain six feet from another person. There are simply too many people and not enough space.”

Karen Gregory, SOS Executive Director

Is Commissioner Potter one of those “essential” County employees being paid time and a half during this crisis?

So what did Mayor Kelly (who makes $14,500.00/year) do when approached by Ms. Gregory for help? Of course she threw herself into problem solving mode.

“For our city, this was not a high enough standard [JK : the standard set by the County] I’m proud that Saratoga Springs is joining a short, but growing list of communities across the country prepared to prevent infection and spread among our homeless population by using hotels to practice social distancing and enable access to adequate hygiene, hand washing, and quarantine. This will save lives.”

Mayor Meg Kelly

In a news release issued by SOS, Gregory praised the Mayor for her help. Mayor Kelly promised help and the next morning the two started going “door to door” seeking a hotel.

They found a partner in the Holiday Inn.

Kevin Tuohy, general manager of the local Holiday Inn, bought in. Tuohy was originally from here and returned last year to manage the Holiday Inn.

A little history. In 1961 when the economy of Saratoga Springs was especially low, a group was established to provide quality lodging in the city. Money was raised and the Holiday Inn was born.

“In 1961, the idea of a community hotel in Saratoga Springs was born. While asking for donations from locals, the founders of the hotel stated that ‘change can impact a community in a positive way. Fifty-six years later, we are incredibly proud to have the opportunity to change the way we operate to support the Saratoga Springs community in this time of unprecedented crisis.”

Kevin Touhy

Do We Live In A Great City Or What??

Letter from Commissioner Dalton and Mayor Kelly Re: Saratoga Hospital Accepting NYC Patients

This title is a bit inaccurate as Saratoga Hospital will be accepting patients from other communities in our state as well as New York City as the need arises.

I applaud Commissioner Dalton’s and Mayor Kelly’s letter. All New Yorkers are our neighbors. With hospitals in New York City overwhelmed and the courageous doctors and staff being pressed to the breaking point, we reach out our hand.

Saratoga Springs Honors First Responders and Hospital Staff

Neighbors On White Street Clap For First Responders

This is a link to a WNYT news story on Saratoga Springs Police and Fire honoring Saratoga Hospital staff (This video did not embed. Maybe WNYT is blocking this function?).

Let’s all practice social distancing, hand washing, etc. Remember that our failure to protect ourselves puts the people who must save us into danger.

How To Access Saratoga Springs City Council Meetings

Attend From Home: The City Council will be meeting via Zoom throughout this period of social distancing. Find out how you can stay connected.

In Saratoga Springs:

Tuesday’s City Council meeting will be held virtually on Zoom and streamed on the City’s website for live-viewing.  

Members of the public can also participate in the Public Hearings via Zoom, and submit public comments to the Council via email.

Playground & recreation equipment have been closed.  

City parks are NOT closed. They are open and available for residents to enjoy – getting fresh air and being outside safely is important for everyone’s overall well-being and mental health.

Whether you are in a park, downtown, or in your neighborhood, social distancing measures should always be followed to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Latest Developments Of Saratoga County Pay Controversy: I Don’t Know Where To Begin!

It is hard to avoid hyperbole in describing the descent of Saratoga County’s government into chaos.

The County has now retroactively withdrawn the 50% raises for all but forty employees. They are going to recover any moneys of the now unlucky employees of the County who may or may not have actually gotten that money in a pay check yet.

The Deputies in the Sheriff’s Department had been required to agree to not take any outside employment as part of the original bonus agreement. Apparently, while the money is being withdrawn, they are still going to hold the Deputies to the work limit provision.

In the meantime, the employees who will continue to receive these moneys are part of something they are calling the COVID-19 Command Center.

So I went to the Saratoga County website and attempted to look up the COVID-19 Command Center. The search turned up one hit. What was that hit?

It was a single sentence from a statement by Preston Allen, the chairman of the Board of Supervisors, regarding the County’s efforts to combat the virus. In his statement he assured the public that:

The only employees getting time and a half are those who are working in our COVID-19 command center. This group varies day to day but is on average staffed with 40 employees.

Preston Allen

What are the duties, responsibilities, and activities of those working in this “command center?” There is nothing on the website to tell us. Who are the 40 employees staffing this “command center” who are enjoying this time and a half pay and what are their positions? Nothing.

While there is no number listed to call the “command center” there is a County COVID-19 hotline number listed. I decided to call it. Granted, I was calling it at 8:00 PM, but one of the reasons given for the raises was the 24/7 burden the County was enduring in dealing with this crisis. I let the phone ring for over five minutes. Not only did no one answer the phone but there wasn’t even a recorded message. Further research uncovered that the hotline operates from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

The County Takes On Its Morale Problem

In a previous post I documented the disparaging remarks about county employees made by the Saratoga County Human Resource Director, Marcie McNamara.

It is truly hard to imagine what granting a generous pay raise to the County staff and then not only withdrawing the raise but clawing back any money they may have already gotten will have.

So what did the County do to attempt to address the morale problem? They paid an Albany based public relations firm to issue a press release and produce a video. You can try to access the video through the link in the release, but you will learn that you need a password to view it.

The following is the press release. I don’t think the release needs any analysis from me except to note the presence of bounty hunter Duane “Dog” Chapman. It speaks for itself. The only thing missing is what the County, that is what we, the taxpayers, paid for it.

For Immediate Release

March 31, 2020

Media Contact: Ridge Harris, 518-378-6530

SARATOGA COUNTY WORKFORCE GETS THANKS FROM NFL LEGEND, REALITY TV STAR, AND LOCAL ELECTED OFFICIALS


Ballston Spa, NY – Saratoga County employees and others working on the front lines to stop the spread of COVID-19 today received a round of thank you messages from local elected officials and nationally recognized figures.

“On behalf of the community I’d like to thank you and your attempts to keep our neighborhood and our families safe,” said NFL Hall of Famer Bill Parcells, a Saratoga County resident and former head coach of the New York Giants.

“Words ‘thank you,’ ‘good job,’ and ‘atta boy’ are not near what you deserve,” said Duane “Dog” Chapman, star of the reality TV show Dog the Bounty Hunter.

The video included messages from county, state and federal elected officials directed to the county workforce who are working around the clock to support their neighbors during this pandemic.

VIDEO LINK: Saratoga County: COVID-19 Workforce THANK YOU!

——————————

Don’t Blame Everyone Associated With County Government For This

It would be unfair to blame everyone serving on the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors for this debacle. While the original vote that created this debacle was unanimous, ten Supervisors have written several times to Chair Preston Allen calling for a meeting to address all this. Unfortunately, although they represent a majority of the Board of Supervisors’ weighted vote [for most business conducted, a Supervisor’s vote is recorded as the population of the town/city they represent] and could pass a resolution, to force a special meeting a majority of the actual number of Supervisors is needed. To date they have been unable to secure the 12 votes needed for this. It’s quite stunning and sad, I think, that given the degree of ineptitude the County has exhibited in dealing with this crisis that not even half of the Saratoga County Supervisors apparently see this as a problem.

It is also critical to acknowledge that there are many highly dedicated people who work for the County. It is unfortunate that they should suffer because of the stunning ineptitude of the management.

All of this Is Rooted in the Violation of the Open Meetings Law

The reason we know so little about all of this is that the Board of Supervisors has transferred its power to make staffing and payroll decisions to a special committee that meets entirely in secret.

One odd item in Chair Preston Allen’s public statement was his description of the committee.

In accordance with the resolution adopted by our Board of Supervisors, I hold a weekly meeting of the Chairs of our Law and Finance and Human Resource Committees and County Administration to determine the effectiveness of the current employee matrix, and it is adjusted accordingly to maximize the work we do for you while protecting taxpayer money.

Preston Allen

The resolution establishing the committee included Human Resources Director Marcie McNamara, who originally benefitted from the committee’s payroll decision, as a member. Her name is now absent. Has she been expunged from the committee?

Without any notice of when this very powerful committee meets or any record of what happens at their meetings, the public is left in the dark about what decisions are being made as to how to use tax dollars and County staff to address this crisis.