Times Union Watch:Tara Gaston and Wendy Liberatore’s Unholy Alliance Continues To Damage Lives

[JK: This story involves three articles written by Wendy Liberatore that appeared in the Times Union newspaper on June 30, July 9, July 11]

Karen Gregory who had been the executive director of Shelters of Saratoga (SOS), was summarily terminated in a manner that raises serious questions about the competence and ethics of the SOS board of directors.

The recent coverage by the Times Union raises additional questions about the role played by Supervisor Tara Gaston in this unfortunate business.

The board of SOS declined an inquiry by Ms. Liberatore regarding the basis for Ms. Gregory’s termination, but the article asserts that Ms. Gregory was terminated for two reasons.

“…those who are close to the situation say that Gregory…was dismissed…because of her poor working relationship with staff as well as officials in Saratoga County government, which funds its Cold [sic] Blue winter shelter.”

TU June 30, 2020

Supervisor Gaston is the only cited source for the article, and she is quoted extensively. Gaston has been a regular source for Wendy Liberatore and has a history of conflict with both Gregory and Mayor Kelly in Liberatore stories.

Gaston met with the executive committee of the SOS board on at least one occasion as part of their inquiry leading to Ms. Gregory’s termination. It is more than a bit disingenuous for Liberatore to present Gaston as entirely ignorant of the events as she does when she writes that Supervisor Gaston didn’t “… know what happened with Gregory, but she is hoping her predecessor [sic] will work with the county” and quotes Gaston as saying “‘I assume the board made the best decision for them as a board as a whole.’”

In fact, in this article Liberatore repeats the thoroughly debunked narrative promoted by Gaston that “By not working with the county, Gregory lost her opportunity for FEMA reimbursement” for expenses related to housing the homeless in the Saratoga Springs Holiday Inn.

In earlier posts I have documented that this story, promoted by Supervisor Gaston and reported on by Wendy Liberatore, is grossly inaccurate. This narrative portrays Supervisor Gaston and the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors as champions of the homeless frustrated by the intransigence of Ms. Gregory and Mayor Kelly.

It fails to acknowledge that Ms. Gregory entreated both the Saratoga County Commissioner of Social Services (the welfare department) and the Director of the County Health Department to assist in housing the homeless early on. Ms. Gregory was told by both that they could not provide help except to persons with confirmed cases of the virus. I would remind the readers that this is the same county government that also exploited the pandemic by awarding hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to its employees as time and a half bonuses. Saratoga County apparently easily found the discretionary money to dramatically increase the pay to many working for the county including some of its top administrators but was unwilling to spend money to house the homeless safely during a pandemic

To site “….a poor working relationship….with officials in Saratoga County…” as a reason for Ms. Gregory to be summarily terminated from her job as director of SOS makes no sense. It would be more fitting to terminate the employment of those at the county who continually refuse to address the needs of the most neediest amongst us and those on the County Board of Supervisors who oversee and condone this practice.

The SOS Board’s Termination Of Gregory Is Tainted By A Broken Process

I admire people who volunteer to serve on community boards. They donate their time to causes they believe in.

This however does not absolve them of the responsibility to oversee their respective organizations in a professional manner.

Poorly trained boards are prone to capricious actions and gross mismanagement because informality invites trouble.

I have been told by a number of sources that Karen Gregory’s termination consisted of a brief telephone call and a followup email.

Ms. Gregory was never afforded even the most minimal opportunity to address the allegations that resulted in her termination as far as I can determine.

That’s right. The board’s “deliberations” did not include seeking Ms. Gregory’s responses.

The evidence for the allegations about her problematic management style came from a survey of past employees done using Survey Monkey.

In a July 9, 2020 article, Ms. Liberatore reported that the TU had secured a copy of the employee questionnaires. Apparently, in error, the surveys were uploaded to the Saratoga Springs city website. They remained there for four days before the mistake was uncovered and the surveys were taken down. She writes:

While some of those interviewed [JK: They were not “interviewed.” They responded to a survey designed by a member of the SOS board] cited the pandemic and returns to school as reasons for leaving, four of those interviewed said Gregory’s leadership style drove them away.

Liberatore article of July 9, 2020

Bear in mind that according to the TU, the survey went out only to past employees. According to the Times Union the survey had only twelve responses and of those only four were critical.

Even assuming that the criticisms in these four responses are true, they come from “ex-employees”, and while they merit investigation should not in and of themselves be the basis of immediate, summary termination. As someone who has been a manager (I was the executive director of the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council for sixteen years) these responses illustrate why information like this is better gathered in structured face to face exit interviews where issues can be explored more extensively rather than web based surveys.

The article also reports:

Not everyone disliked Gregory. Two former employees referred to her kindly with one saying “I love working with Karen” while another said that they were happy Karen was available for the team training.

Times Union July 19, 2020

So apparently one of the two reasons Ms. Gregory was terminated was because four of the twelve past employees who responded to a survey were harshly critical of her. We have no idea what the history of these employees is. For example, we do not know if they voluntarily left the agency or were terminated for cause.

The only way I could understand such a minimal number of complaints requiring the summary termination of Ms. Gregory would be if she had been accused of something egregious. Things like sexual harassment, discrimination based on race or gender, or documented theft could merit such an extreme board action but this was not the case.

What I cannot fathom was that the board did not responsibly investigate these complaints properly which would have included discussing them with Ms. Gregory.

As someone who was the executive director of an agency and who has served on boards, I find all of this simply stunning. It raises fundamental questions about the competence of the people involved.

I wrote to Peter Capazzola who is the president of the SOS board. I asked him whether it was true that the board had not allowed Ms. Gregory a formal venue to address the allegations against her. I also asked for a copy of the SOS personnel policies. I noted in my inquiry that I was not asking about the particulars of why she was terminated which would appropriately be privileged. My question was about board procedure. Responding to these two requests would not violate their responsibility to Ms. Gregory regarding privacy.

He responded with an email stating, “As this is a personnel matter, the board will refrain from comment at this time.”

I do not believe that SOS is subject to the Freedom of Information Law. I do believe that as an organization that depends heavily on public support, transparency is important.

To me Mr. Capazzola and the SOS board are abusing the principle of privacy in order to avoid answering some uncomfortable questions.

His unwillingness to answer a simple question about board procedure or to provide a copy of their personnel policies only serves to add weight to skepticism regarding the integrity of the SOS board’s handling of this dismissal.

Addendum: Liberatore Publishes Additional Article

Following the July 9 article, Ms. Liberatore wrote an additional article for the July 11 edition of the Times Union.

In the July 9 article she obliquely referenced Lisa Shields, Deputy to the Mayor. In this most recent article she outs Ms. Shields as the person who mistakenly posted the SOS employee surveys. Ms. Shields had been a member of the SOS board during the events surrounding the termination of Karen Gregory and resigned the night of the firing.

In this latest article’s version of the events Liberatore writes that the documents “…painted a damning portrait of its former Executive Director…”

So the four questionnaires out of twelve that were critical of Ms. Gregory have now morphed into a “damning portrait.”

SOS board president, Peter Capazzola, who had heretofore refused to discuss anything associated with the termination has also experienced a change of mind. In this article he responds to Wendy and reveals that Ms. Shields resigned from the board the same night the board terminated Ms. Gregory.

Unfortunate Comments From John Franck

In the article, Commissioner Madigan, who the director of IT reports to, told Ms. Liberatore that the posting “…was an unintentional and unfortunate accident.”

Liberatore also contacted John Franck who, regrettably, expressed skepticism that the posting of the surveys on the city website had been an accident and expressed concern about the potential for legal liabilities.

I assume that the timing of Ms. Shield’s resignation was precipitated by her differences with the SOS board over the termination. It makes no sense that she would intentionally post the surveys on the city’s website.

I find Commissioner Franck’s speculation that inferred that Ms. Shields had acted maliciously extremely disturbing.

Over the Mayor’s tenure in office I have met with Ms. Shields on numerous occasions. Politics too often attracts people who enjoy intrigue and conflict. I expect the people who read this blog have observed this kind of person more than most of us would like.

Lisa Shields is the very opposite of this kind of person. She is quiet spoken. She is a listener and a consensus builder. When you meet with her it becomes clear that she truly wants to know what your concerns are and clearly wants to find a way to address them. One hardly ever sees her name in the media because she is really a modest person.

Knowing her as I do, I feel badly that her regrettable error has become entwined in the very intrigues and publicity that she has so carefully eschewed.

I respect John Franck. He is one of the smartest elected officials I have met over the years. Still, I think in this case he owes Ms. Shields an apology.

Commenter Attacks Black Lives Matter

I recently received two comments from a person who identifies himself as Eddie Lehman. He was quite upset about what he viewed as the danger posed to Saratoga Springs by Black Lives Matters (BLM). He characterized them as Marxists who would use violence against the community. His comments contained inaccurate information and the tone of the two emails was sufficiently harsh that I emailed him asking that he rewrite his concerns using a more temperate tone.

I subsequently received an email from him which I have included at the end of this post. He has toned it down and it is sufficiently temperate that with a few minor edits I am publishing it as part of this post. Readers should understand that I am more tolerant of commenters when their target is me. Were this an attack on someone else, it would not have been accepted.

As to his claim that BLM is some kind of a dangerous Marxist organization, just because someone finds value in insights offered by Karl Marx does not make them a potential threat to others. Biographies of the four women who founded Black Lives Matters on the BLM website make no reference to Marx, however. In fact the emphasis is more on cultural issues around being artists, issues of gender, and of course, issues of race.

Most of the people participating in the demonstrations about the murder of George Floyd are young people who are concerned about the problem of racism in our country and the excessive use of force by police in many communities.

During the most recent demonstration in Saratoga Springs participants at times marched in the street and even sat down at intersections blocking traffic to draw attention to their message. There was no vandalism nor indication that they were interested in fighting with the police. Some parents had brought their children to this march.

I applaud Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton and Police Chief Shane Crooks for the way they have handled these challenging situations.

I know that some people will argue that the demonstrators were breaking the law and should have been arrested. This fails to consider that thoughtful law enforcement officers are often flexible in dealing with incidents they encounter. For example, people are not usually arrested for jay walking.

Last year when I was on vacation in Louisiana my friend who was driving was speeding well above the speed limit. A deputy sheriff stopped us. After checking my friend’s license he told him that he was going to simply give him a warning this time. He told my friend that he patrols this road regularly and that if he found him speeding again he would ticket him. He observed that speeding put not only my friend’s life at risk but others driving the road as well.

Good police work involves good judgement. In the case of the demonstration, police cars drove with the participants to protect them from harm from vehicles and to insure that uninvolved pedestrians were also protected.

In my opinion Eddie Lehman exaggerates the threat of the BLM demonstrations. He is, however, not alone in his concerns and he deserved to have his position published on this site once inaccurate information was removed and as long as contrary responses from other followers of this blog are published.

Here is the slightly edited version of an email he sent to me personally through my blog.

I’m disappointed that you chose to silence the alarm that I was trying to sound out of love for this delightful city. I merely stated facts and tried to expose BLM for what they truly are. We’ve obviously been targeted by the same organization that has burning, looting, violence, and overall destruction accompanied by demands to defund the police follow them across the country wherever they go, and the protests here are escalating. These are irrefutable facts. If that isn’t worthy of citizens’ attention, then what is?! So either you’re just playing half-[JK: edited] XXXXX journalist and you lack the courage to address anything serious that poses a threat to Saratoga Springs or you don’t care much about this City. Either way I will be unsubscribing upon completion of this email. I just don’t have time for kiddie newspapers.

From Eddie Lehman’s email to me.

The Saratogian: How Long Can It Go On?

Our household recently received a solicitation from the Saratogian offering six months of delivery for $2.00.

This prompted me to go through the latest paper to see, aside from the classified page, how many paid advertisements were in the paper. While there were a number of ads promoting the newspaper itself, there were only five others and those were pretty modest.

Most of the stories that appear in the paper are either from national news services or from “staff” and more often than not cover news from other localities such as Troy, not Saratoga. “Staff” usually means pretty much a publishing of some news release from a local organization or business. It is unclear how many if any local reporters are still employed by the paper.

The Saratogian is owned by a hedge fund. Why it goes on without significant income from advertising or subscribers is a mystery to me.

Here are the pages from the July 3, 202o edition. The X is for self promotion advertisements for the newspaper.

Remigia Foy Has Died

Remigia Foy, Saratoga Springs native and three term Commissioner of Finance, died on June 30th after a long battle with cancer.

Remigia was unique and, without doubt, one of the most colorful players in Saratoga Springs politics I have known during the years I have lived here.

A woman of strong convictions she was a political independent. If she thought something was wrong she was fearless in her response. It didn’t make any difference how important the person might think they were. She never raised her voice but could drive home her points with a withering tongue powered by a sharp wit and keen intelligence.

Remigia served three terms as the city’s Commissioner of Finance and was a fierce defender of the commission form of government.

I am sorry that recent arrivals to our city did not get to know Remigia, but health issues limited her public activities in recent years.

Remigia was such a fighter and so spirited it is hard for me to believe that even cancer could defeat her.

Jane and I send our deepest condolences to her long term companion James Brophy.

Here is a link to her obituary.

The Blogger Shares His Struggles To Moderate This Site

Moderating a blog is a tricky business.  Let me review why I write this blog and how I determine what comments can be published.

I have several goals in publishing this blog.

To begin with it is meant to provide readers information about local politics.  With the decline of newspapers, the resources that newspapers have to cover local government have atrophied.  Even when reporters cover local events, they rarely have the time to dig below the surface.

I do not presume to comprehensively investigate all that goes on in our city.  What I can do is focus on certain events that interest me and dig into them.  I can also alert readers to newspaper articles and television reports that I think are informative.

Moderating Comments

The purpose of “commenting” on my site is to engage people to create a public dialogue.  In an age in which people shout past each other, I try to create an environment in which people feel comfortable sharing their views.  They should be able to post a comment without fear of being personally attacked, humiliated, or berated.

Tolerance vs Censorship

This means that I allow opinions even though I may personally condemn them. 

Simply not airing opinions with which one disagrees doesn’t mean these opinions disappear.  In my mind it is better to air them publicly so that they can be examined and addressed.

I am not naive enough to believe that just engaging in civil dialog will mean that one’s preferred position prevails or that open dialog alone will be sufficient to protect us from the perniciousness of racism or movements like fascism.

I do, however, believe that a culture that is dominated by censorship and the suppression of ideas, even those one finds offensive, will lead to the domination by those with the most power, not necessarily those with the best ideas.

Moderating for Accuracy

Probably most of the readers of this blog are not fully aware of the time maintaining this blog requires.

I am very rigorous regarding the accuracy of my own posts.  As those who follow my blog know, when I become aware of an error in one of my posts I acknowledge and correct it.

Moderating comments is a different matter.  To begin with, time and priorities limit my ability to insure that everything other people write is accurate.  I do, however, exercise my right to block or edit comments when I recognize inaccuracies.  I make a special effort to remove false claims against public figures. 

Is there a comment that expresses something so abhorrent it should not be published?

On the other hand, I have been reticent to edit opinions expressed in comments on my blog even when I find them troubling. 

This is a problematic area with which I continually struggle.  What kind of comment is sufficiently abhorrent that it needs to be censored?

A case in point was a comment from a follower who uses the name Justin Chase.  In response to the Mayor’s call for Juneteenth to become a holiday he wrote:

You stated:
“The symbolism surrounding a Juneteenth holiday is an important acknowledgment of the debt owed to the people who were enslaved in America.”

If they weren’t…where would they be today?
Just wondering.

In a subsequent post, in response to searing criticism, Justin Chase offered that he was simply trying to be provocative to spur conversation.

I believe that I should have removed the above fragment before the full comment was published.  I have subsequently done so.

Justin Chase has been a regular participant on this blog almost since it began.  Considering his previous posts and his subsequent defense it appears that he thought he was being both provocative and amusing when he wrote the above. 

To joke about the idea that black people today should be grateful that their ancestors were captured in Africa and transported under the most horrific conditions to the United States and then treated in the most barbaric ways as chattel is abhorrent.

This incident has caused me to rethink my policy on commenting.  I do not believe that writing simply to be provocative is helpful.  It invites unnecessary conflict.  The substance of what happens in our city along with the thoughtful and earnest observations of the people who follow this blog  generates enough interesting and useful dialogue.

With that in mind, I have written to Justin asking that in the future he limit his comments to what he actually thinks and believes although this will not be the only standard used in deciding what comments to publish. Comments that I believe are meant only to be provocative and trolling will not be posted.

The Need for Civility

I have on quite a few occasions censored comments that I considered to be outside the bounds of civility.  Usually this is simple.  Anyone who follows social media is familiar with ugly attacks that are simply personal and meant to hurt and/or anger.  They commonly include profanity.  They prompt me to quickly click on the trash icon.

More nuanced is the problem of tone.  My standard is based on a question I ask myself.  Is the tone of this comment so belligerent that the only possible response is either silence or an angry reply?

For my blog to be successful in my mind, persons willing to comment should feel confident that they will not be the victim of a response that they experience as humiliating.

I recently published a comment by a follower who identifies himself as Andy Reeder.  He was addressing Justin Chase.  Here is an excerpt:

You’re saying your post was to “promote a rather entertaining exercise in creative banter”? Is that what you call saying black Americans should be grateful their ancestors were brought to this country as slaves?

Was it “creative banter” when you said “Sweden had it right?” After apologizing for their approach earlier this month due to the high death rate, they’ve admitted they have made less progress than expected in achieving immunity and have one of the worst mortality rates in the world. ( https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-17/sweden-proves-surprisingly-slow-in-achieving-herd-immunity )

Was it creative banter when you said “everyone has the virus”, despite only 10-20% of the people tested in areas experiencing the worst of the the virus have the related antibodies?

This style does not invite dialogue.  It is meant to bludgeon.  It is meant to humiliate.  It ends any conversation.

Andy is one of the most thoughtful people who posts on this blog.  He brings a wealth of factual knowledge to it.  I have in the past asked him to tone down a comment which he has done. 

I debated with myself long and hard about putting up this most recent comment from him.  I finally decided that given the disturbing nature of Justin’s comment I would allow Andy’s strong response this time.

In Defense of Civility

President Donald Trump is not responsible for the decline of civility in our country, he is a symptom.  His attack on the late Senator John McCain’s imprisonment during the Vietnam War as some kind of proof that Senator McCain was a “loser” was only one of many degrading and gross insults he has made.  As the “leader” of our country his use of the bully pulpit in this manner has without question promoted more of this kind of hateful behavior.

There are no simple solutions to what we face.  What is irrefutable is that if we do not learn how to  discuss our problems and differences then the future is bleak indeed.

I see my blog as a tiny effort to address our malaise.  Civility is not an end in and of itself.  It is the prerequisite to finding answers to the problems that are at the root of incivility.

Saratoga Springs Department of Public Safety Responds To Most Recent Anti-Racism Protest

I spoke earlier this week with Commissioner of Public Safety, Robin Dalton. She had sent out a release about a Facebook event her department had planned to share her department’s response to the murder of George Floyd, publicize to the community that the policies and procedures of the police department have been posted on the city’s website, and take questions from the community.

She told me that the event had been planned several weeks prior and she only learned the day before the department’s planned event that there would be a demonstration regarding the death of George Floyd at the same time .

Commissioner Dalton told me:

“When we learned of the conflict I discussed the issue with the leadership of the Police Department. We were all of one mind. Racism is a plague on our society and we need to support any reasonable effort to combat it. We agreed that the spotlight should be on the demonstration and that our event could and should be rescheduled.”

I asked her about how the police would handle the anticipated blocking of traffic by the demonstrators. She told me:

“The department is committed to the mission of ‘protect and serve.’ Our number one priority is safety. Safety for the demonstrators and safety for any bystanders. Any actions by our officers will be informed by this standard.”

Below is a press release issued by the Commissioner along with a video report of the demonstration from Channel Thirteen News

Release From Department of Public Safety

Saratoga Springs, Department of Public Safety

  Robin Dalton, Commissioner

  Eileen Finneran, Deputy Commissioner

City Hall  Saratoga Springs, New York 12866        


June 30, 2020

It has come to our attention that in the last few days a Black Lives Matter peaceful protest has been scheduled for the same time as our planned community conversation. Out of respect for people who want to participate in both events, we will be rescheduling our community conversation for the following Wednesday, July 8 at 5pm. Our hope is to have this conversation with as many people as possible such that every voice can be heard.

Please join the Saratoga Springs Police Department Chief Shane Crooks and Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton for the first in a series of community conversations. In this first discussion, hear about our plans for the department and our city in response to the murder of George Floyd and the publication of our policies and procedures pertaining to the SSPD. Question and Answer session to follow. Per the safety protocols in place for the city at this time, this will be held online, via Zoom. We will publish the link to the meeting the day of. 

This is the first in a series of monthly discussions to be hosted by the SSPD and Department of Public Safety, email Robin.Dalton@Saratoga-Springs.org with any questions or concerns. 

Thank you,

Commissioner Robin Dalton

Link to event Facebook page:


This is a link to the channel thirteen feature on the demonstration