[This post has been corrected. The two homes mentioned in the TU article were not in Geyser Crest but in the Meadowbrook area]
In order for people to abandon their form of government it is only logical that they would need to believe that serious problems exist that necessitate a change.
So let’s step back and consider Saratoga Springs’ situation, putting aside whether the reader thinks there is a form of government that would serve us better.
Up until the pandemic
* the city had maintained one of the highest bond ratings of any municipality in New York State.
*the city had not had a tax hike in eight years.
*the City Council meetings, led by Mayor Kelly have been a study in efficiency and decorum.
*the city’s streets have been well maintained, we have outstanding recreation resources in terms of our playing fields, our recreation center, and our ice rink.
This city is the envy of many and its strong real estate market serves to demonstrate that people love living here or wish that they did.
Hey, we live in a wonderful place.
This has not been a great environment to try to convince people that Saratoga Springs is in desperate need of restructuring its form of government.
So utilizing social media the pro-charter people have attempted to conjure up a virtual Saratoga Springs where corruption is rife, the infrastructure is in a state of decay, elected officials are hostile to their constituents, the city’s finances are collapsing due to profligate spending by officials, and a sclerotic bureaucracy is impenetrable to all but well connected insiders and developers.
Fortunately for the pro-charter people, they have a willing partner in this mission in the Times Union whose quest for readers is aided by publishing the group’s dubious accusations. The actual stories usually include information that undermines the group’s claims but, the TU’s sensational headlines (“Lead In City Water”) are weaponized by posting them all over social media.
I have already reported on the complaint submitted to the New York State Attorney General (AG) about alleged collusion between the Independence Party and the members of the City Council. Bill McTygue and Anne Bullock made the same allegations in 2019 to the AG. The AG took no action. Now, just before this year’s election they did the same thing. The Times Union had reported on the previous complaint but wrote a new story as though this were some new revelation. Ms. Liberatore, the author of the article, failed to remind her readers about the previous complaint and the fact that the AG had apparently dismissed it.
Last week (October 23, 2020) the Times Union ran a story, again by Wendy Liberatore, about two residents who had experienced water problems. Neither resident agreed to be interviewed for the story.
The story reported that the neighbors had allegedly reached out to Dillon Moran regarding their problems. Moran ran unsuccessfully against Public Works Commissioner Skip Scirocco last year. Moran has been among the leadership of the pro-charter group and enjoys the dubious record of having created at least one fake website meant to confuse people looking for the website of those opposed to charter change.
The TU story is actually quite fair in its substance. Both homeowners had their water analyzed by a firm in Ballston Spa and in both cases their lead levels were elevated. Following the flushing of the city’s water system, the lead levels dropped to acceptable levels in one of the homes and while the turbidity continued the report noted that it has “no health effects” and the Department of Health said the water was in compliance with standards. In the case of the other homeowner, unfortunately the TU story did not report on the results after the flushing.
The story goes on to report that the health department affirmed that “…the city water is in compliance with standards.” The TU article quoted a NYS Health Department email that stated:
The [health] department was made aware of elevated lead levels in the drinking water sample collected from two homes on Saddle Brook Drive in Saratoga Springs. Although the city remains in compliance with current standards, the department, through its Glens Falls district office, is working with the homeowners to troubleshoot potential sources of lead within their homes.New York State Health Department
In response to an inquiry by the TU, Commissioner Scirocco wrote to the newspaper:
No test results have been submitted by the resident to the city for review or confirmation to date…This would appear to be a home plumbing issue, it is not indicative of the city’s overall water as demonstrated by the annual water quality report.”Commissioner Skip Scirocco
So the problem, according to the NYS Health Department, is not systemic but rather unique to the home. Instead of approaching the city about the problem, someone other than the homeowner, presumably Dillon Moran, went to the Times Union to generate a news story.
If the reader wants to dig deeper into the history of Saratoga Springs water and the evolution of its municipal water system, Saratoga Today had an excellent story some years ago.
The Not So Subtle Campaign To Hype The Story
The Times Union is in the business of selling newspapers so with that in mind, consider the headline that ran over this story:
Report Finds Lead In Water
Just as bad if not worse was the subheading:
Search ongoing for source of Spa City contamination
It makes you wonder if the author of these headlines bothered to read the full story or just went with the sensational first paragraph.
The result has been a social media blitz by the leadership of the pro-charter advocates taking off on the headline and lead paragraphs and ignoring the counter information that comes later in the story.
Pat Kane, aside from being among the leaders of the pro-charter group, was the person who doctored a picture meant to get someone who works for the city fired. Here is one of many, many posts he has done claiming city water is unsafe:
Thank you. I stopped using tap water for our dog’s bowl. They are white dogs that have brown stains around their mouths. Since I gave them only filtered water, the brown staining has been fading every day. I am having a full house filter installed next week. I am now using Zero Water for all of our drinking water.Pat Kane on Next Door
Or this one from Joanne Yepsen:
Until the rest of us on the eastern plateau have our water tested, we won’t know the extent of the problem. I don’t think we want to mess around with the water quality that comes into homes that our family drinks. I started by replacing a new filter for my refrigerator and will buy more bottled water.Joanne Yepsen on Next Door
The threads on Next Door are really both sad and disturbing. Kane et al have fostered in some anxiety over the safety of the water on which they depend. There are posts where people worry about a ring of discolor in their toilet.
With local disinformation like this there is no need for bots or foreign hackers to undermine people’s sense of security and faith in their public institutions.
Public Officials Gone Wild?
The pro-charter people have seized on the current pandemic driven economic crisis to promote the idea that elected officials are lavishly spending money for fancy offices while laying off police and firefighters and cutting back on rec programs.
This story began several years ago when the pro-charter people got Wendy Liberatore to publish a false story that part of the capital improvements in the Finance Office included a private bathroom for the Commissioner.
Again, the story that just appeared in the Times Union was largely accurate. The bathroom is no longer “just for the commissioner” but for the fourteen members of the department. Up to now they have had to use the public bathroom that is small and that must meet the needs of the public as well as the members of the Finance Office. If you ever have visited this bathroom late in the day, you will have sympathy for the city employees who have endured using it.
The reality, as reported in the article, is that the decision to do the capital project was made in 2016. The city bonded for the project and the payments fell well within the city’s budget.
In fact, the contracts for doing the work had been awarded and the work was underway before the full impact of the pandemic hit.
The pro-charter people would have the public believe that the city chose to refurbish the offices rather than pay for police and fire. In fact, the bond money was restricted to the rehab work and most of the money had already been encumbered.
Let’s remember that this is part of a larger project to make our city hall “greener,” safer, and more accessible. It resolved the issue of the overcrowded police department and addressed the continuing demand from New York State for larger space for the courts among many other issues.
I would observe that this is our community’s city hall.
The Hyped Version
Again the headline for the Times Union story was the titillating, “$1.16M in Saratoga Springs finance office renovations raises eyebrows.” This was all the pro-charter people needed to play on the public’s fear about spending. The story allowed Ron Kim, a leader of the pro-charter group, to opine about how the city “…should have pulled away from spending on anything that was not necessary.” He also asserted that the city could have “…withdrawn from its spending agreements,” when, in fact, the money had basically already been spent.
In a social media post representative of the kind of liberties the pro-charter people took in their campaign, Mark Pingel wrote on the website NextDoor:
And in light of the Times Union article on over spending and palatial officers (SIC) for our commissioners, we need to make a change to get checks and balances. We must prevent our government from running amok any longer.Mark Pringel, NextDoor
This city now finds itself under considerable financial stress, but it is plainly dishonest to attribute the problems we now face to the kind of gross mismanagement and corruption that the pro-charter people would like the voters of our city to believe exists. The reality is that the city’s income has experienced a severe blow from the pandemic all the more so as we are a tourist town dependent on visitors to fill our restaurants and hotels.
Hopefully the cynical campaign by the leadership of the pro-charter group will not prevail. Hopefully thoughtful people will see through all this and make up their minds based on the merits of the proposed charter rather than hype and misinformation.