[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.
6 thoughts on “Pro Charter People Try To Create Virtual City Rife With Incompetence And Corruption”
First, I’d like to thank you for your consistent reporting on this matter.
I too, share your hope that voters once again cut through the clutter of falsehoods, fake news, and outright lies foisted on us by a group that apparently is allergic to the concept of winning fair and square on the merits. A group that sees nothing wrong with misleading social media pages, fake surveys, fake “official” exit pollers and the like, aided and abetted by mouthpieces disguised as journalists, as long as their coup d’etat is successful.
They keep raising this issue time and time again despite having it rejected by the citizenry. I do have a concern that, given the heightened interest in the national election, that this group might be successful with their scheme to flim-flam the public this time. If so, I would regard it as a tremendous tragedy: not unlike a weary parent giving in to a spoiled child who wears them down by repeatedly asking for the same thing over and over until they get their way. Doesn’t no mean NO!? They should be sent to bed without their supper…
If this year’s scheme is not defeated again, you are writing a blank check to people who have had repeated opportunities to be forthcoming about the costs associated with transitioning, but instead falsely indict a system that has served Saratoga Springs’ residents quite well:
FACT: Under the commission government, an emergency plan was executed that has enabled our City Hall to completely recover (some would say improve) from an unforeseen Act of God. At the same time, they have dealt with a public health crisis and social unrest. To say that another form of government would have done better is pure speculation, and laughable when you look around the country and see Strong Mayor, and Council-Manager cities exploding in virus upticks and days upon days of rioting and looting. This alone shows that the Commission form works in Saratoga Springs, and makes this year’s scheme worthy of a NO vote.
And please, stop citing places like Watertown as examples of how things work so well. When was the last time Watertown, of all places, for God’s sake, been cited as something worth emulating?
FACT: We currently vote for all six Council Members instead of two under this latest change scheme. Good luck to anyone who disagrees with their ward leader, or whatever they are called. This idea has its roots in Tammany Hall corruption, and perfected under the elder Mayor Daley’s Chicago. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer not to have to kiss someone’s ring (or a-s) to get my streets plowed. This super-bright idea is a new feature of the changers scheme this time around, and it is truly, the dumbest, 100% certified discredited provision of all. This alone deserves a rousing NO vote. And finally…
FACT: The change cabal has been guilty of abusing the system, repeatedly wasting the electorate’s time, energy, and money for their annual infantile indulgences. It is my hope that these eggheads and theorists get slapped down once again, and I urge everyone to turn over their ballots first thing, and vote NO once more… but, for the future, I think we need to look at the requirements to put a proposition on the ballot – it’s obviously too easy for these children to get into the cabinets, as it were. I’m quite tired of allowing people unlimited bites of the apple. Apparently, these folks can’t take NO for an answer. Well, let’s give it to them one last time, and tighten the rules so they cannot use our government as an academic plaything.
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Thank you, Arthur for you very eloquent and accurate take on this matter. Unfortunately, it seems that there are a few charter change supporters with deep pockets who will spare no expense until they get their way. Quite ironic if you think about it, since the group continuously (falsely) accuses Councilmembers of taking large monetary campaign contributions from “big developers” to help get them re-elected. Apparently, money influencing politics is only a bad thing when they aren’t the ones doing it.
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The proposed City Charter does not name or designate an “executive officer.” In such a case, New York State Law (the NYS Statute of Local Governments) assigns the status of “executive officer” to the mayor.
As we all know (I hope), the proposed charter establishes a seven member City Council which includes the mayor as a voting member. This in itself creates a potential problem because each of the the six Council representatives cast a vote based on the population of the district each represents, whereas the mayor is elected at large and presumably would cast a significantly larger fractional weighted vote based on the population of the entire city.
This has not been addressed by either side of this discussion but would likely be resolved in the courts if the proposal is approved.
That aside, the reality is that the proposal does NOT separate the legislative and executive function and, therefore, does NOT establish a separation of powers.
In essence, the co-mingling of the legislative and executive function – so widely castigated by the proponents of the new charter – would remain as now and be shared by the entire City Council, including the mayor.
Below is the section of state law which addresses the remedy if a local government’s charter lacks a designated executive.
From the New York State Statute of Local Governments
Statute of Local Governments (SLG)
Section 3 Definitions
As used in this chapter the following terms shall mean or include:
1. “Chief executive officer.” The elective or appointive chief executive officer, if there be one, or otherwise the chairman of the board of supervisors, in the case of a county, the mayor in the case of a city or village or the supervisor in the case of a town.
2. “Local government.” A county, city, town or village.
The NYS Statue of Local Governments defines “Chief Executive Officer” (see above). Note that where a City Charter does not specifically name an elective of appointed executive officer – as is the case of the City of Saratoga Springs proposed charter – the mayor becomes the the chief executive.
In the case of Saratoga Springs, because the mayor will be a co-equal voting member of the City Council the entire council would share the executive power. Then, as now, there would be NO system of checks and balances and No separation of powers. Both functions will be vested with the Cit Council as a whole.
Why the framers of the proposal did this is a mystery to me and calls to question the integrity of the separation of powers claim that seems the cornerstone of their argument.
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This makes me angry yet even sadder. I’m sad that in our wonderful city we have some who are so self-serving that they are willing to be deceitful, mean-spirited and unethical while trying to accuse the opposing side of just those things they are doing themselves. In psychology and counseling we call that projection. In this instance I call it despicable and shameful!
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I want to say the pro-charter change group are just as bad as Trumpers but that seems unfair to Trump supporters.
Gordon, Pat, Ann, Dillon, etcetera, you’re a disgrace. You should be run out of town.
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Just a follow up. The state DOH again tested the water out near the two homes and it was free of lead. The testing was done as a result of the recent story in the TU and it’s been determined that it is an internal issue with the home and not the city water source.