I have a corollary. The more a politician appears in the newspapers and the more committees they establish, the less actually gets done.
Too often citizens are most impressed by the charm of their elected official or by the simple fact that a politician knows their name and are oblivious as to what they are actually achieving. This is hardly surprising. People live busy lives just getting the basics of job and family maintained. They have little time to monitor their government the way this blog attempts to do.
Meg Kelly was the unpolitician. She was not one to schmooze. She did not spend much time going to social events that did not require her presence.
While in a one-on-one situation she could be quite warm and charming, her public persona was all business. She had an austere manner of running Council meetings. More than once, I was the subject of her stern command that my two minutes at the microphone were up during the public comment period. City Council meetings were all business. They were not a social event.
I know that many people were put off by her style of dealing with the public. Not me. What I look for in an elected official is how much do they actually achieve. Most people also have little idea how much work is required by elected officials such as the mayor to get things done. Most people take for granted the fact that the city is so attractive and liveable.
I asked Mayor Kelly to make a list of the things that she and the Council were able to achieve in the last four years.
Quite a few of the projects on her list had languished for years uncompleted by previous administrations. Patiently working with all the parties Mayor Kelly was able to find solutions that allowed these long sought-after projects to move forward to fruition.
An eastside Fire/EMS station is one example of a project that was routinely identified as a priority by city officials for years. Chris Matthiesen, when he was the Public Safety Commissioner, made the most serious effort to pursue it but without success. During her time in office, Mayor Kelly brought together the New York Racing Authority and representatives of the state and finally made a deal in which NYRA agreed to allow the city to build its facility on their land at no significant charge. This was quite an achievement.
During her predecessor’s time in office, the city’s plan for a Geyser Road bike/pedestrian trail was hobbled by conflicts between the city and property owners and the town of Milton. These conflicts curdled into litigation that basically suspended the project. Here again, Mayor Kelly patiently worked with the parties to resolve their concerns and today we have our new bike path.
Then there were the nitty-gritty, unsexy changes in the city like improving the Board of Plumbing Examiners, something most Saratogians don’t know even exists. The state requires that the city have a board that sets up exams for certifying plumbers. The city statute for this board had not been revised in some thirty years.
State law requires that plumbing services be done by a certified plumber. There is a wrinkle. In addition to state licensing procedures, each municipality is required to establish a written and a practical test in order for an individual to get what is called a “master plumber” certification. The benefit of passing the local test is that fees the city charges for a project are radically discounted if the job is overseen by a “master plumber.”
The city had bumbled along with an outdated statute with confusing language and dubious requirements. For example, an applicant to become a master plumber used to be required to have a brick-and-mortar facility in the city.
Under Mayor Kelly’s watch the city established more appropriate tests and procedures to facilitate the ability of new plumbers to do business in the city.
I highlight this because it is an example of the kind of rigor with which Mayor Kelly went about strengthening the city’s internal operations. It’s not a very high-profile change, but if you were a plumber wanting to work in Saratoga Springs it was important and something the city had not properly addressed in years.
There were, of course, the larger multiple challenges she faced with COVID, the fire in city hall, and the street demonstrations by Black Lives Matter and their volatile participation at City Council meetings.
Perhaps the most impressive achievement by the Mayor during her tenure was the way the city dealt with the crisis brought on by the fire in City Hall. The city operations had to be reorganized and moved to other locations and then, following the rehabilitation of City Hall, moved back. The swiftness with which this was successfully done was a credit to both her leadership and the teamwork of her colleagues on the Council.
I asked Mayor Kelly if she would provide me a list of accomplishments and they are as follows:
- Changed format of State of the City event. Rather than simply limit presentations to the Mayor’s office, Kelly structured the event to allow all members of the Council to address the public and share their department’s achievements and goals for the coming year.
- Eight months into Kelly’s first term the city was faced with a monumental disaster. A lightning strike set off a fire that made city hall uninhabitable. Working with her colleagues on the Council they were able to reopen city operations within five days using the Recreation Center. This also required the Recreation Department to move its programming across the city with the help of the School District, Skidmore College, the YMCA, and Gavin Park.
- The City Center had set a goal to construct a parking facility for event vendors and participants that would also address some of the parking needs of downtown merchants. The project languished due to an acrimonious lawsuit. Kelly, working with the stake holders, facilitated a deal to resolve the suit which led to the construction of the facility.
- The proposed Geyser Bike and Pedestrian Trail had been in the works for 15 years and was bogged down in three separate lawsuits. Mayor Kelly facilitated an agreement by all parties to end the lawsuits. The trail was successfully completed.
- Secured land for 3rd EMS station on Henning Rd, working with NYRA, NYS and FOB.
- Create bike lanes on Henry Street
- Created many affordable housing units: Finished Intrdata (158), Finished Promenade (87), Finished additional units at Terrace (240)
- Canceled gun shows at City Center.
- Gun buy back , 85 guns taken in, (Tom Roohan raised $10,000.00 for program).
- Organized Police Reform Task Force under Governor’s executive order.
- Created homeless court with Judge Vero.
- Helped organize and promote food drives for Mother Anderson, Franklin Community Ctr and Snacpac. Fed hundreds for several months.
- Secured more parking (45 spots) at the recreation center. Developer donated land to city.
- New Playgrounds at Northside and Westside Parks. New equipment at Eastside Rec
- Juneteenth Holiday
- Reinstated Plumbers Board (Years went by without one)
- Railroad Run Connector Haller Lane (between path and Alger Street, named for Doug Haller. I worked to get land donated by Empire State College)
- Secured 1.9 Million Grant for Missing Sidewalks
- Submitted State legislation to allow Deputies to live in the county not the city, giving a larger pool of applicants.
- Secured temporary housing for Code Blue at the Holiday Inn during outbreak of COVID (not one person came down with COVID)
- All 7 city unions’ contracts are up to date (negotiations traditionally dragged on for years)
- Negotiated all unions to not take 2% increase for 2021
- Testified in Albany to save Video Lottery Funding 2020 & 2021(Both times funds were fully restored)
- Dedicated MaryLou Whitney Park at Union and Circular
- Progressed with the Downtown Connector for the greenbelt
- Introduced RISE to Mackey Ford (new van to transport homeless) donated a vehicle (related to homeless court).
- Secured picnic tables for Congress Park from NYRA at no cost
- 2019 Completed Recreation Master Plan
- City is now recognized as a Bronze Certified Climate Smart Community.
- 2018 The final sidewalk section of “Safe Routes to School” was completed on Geyser Road
- Bikeshare was successfully launched and has continued with great success.
- In 2018 The City was awarded $2.7M in grant funds for projects like the Greenbelt Downtown Connector project, Electric Vehicle (EV) stations and a Natural Resource Inventory
- Land use board applications are now submitted electronically on the City’s website
- Helped facilitate Code Blue temporary home through strong working relationships among city, county leaders.
- 2019 The City’s Zoning Map brought into compliance with the 2015 Comprehensive Plan, as required by law.
- Completed UDO
7 thoughts on “Mayor Meg Kelly: a Woman Who Got Things Done”
Out of the gate, the mayor presided over the Council meetings with a refreshing departure from theater to one of timely presentation. Her public persona was indeed all business and it proved successful for Saratoga Springs. I am reminded of those perennial government critics who today, must pause given all the accomplishments of this mayor and the Council. Thanks for the wrap, John and thank you, Mayor Kelly.
Big shoes to fill indeed.
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Impressive list Indeed but I need help with the bike lanes on Henry Street.
While Mayor Kelly is indeed the unpolitician, her predecessor, Joanne Yepsen was the uber politician. In the four years she was in office, the woman never saw a camera she didn’t want to be in front of and she was the queen of committees—none of which ever produced anything substantial. Now Ron Kim has resurrected Yepsen to—wait for it—head up a committee! His first act after taking office. Here we go again?
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Meg Kelly was and is a competent professional. Like Lisa Shields, she is better suited to a non-public role and I am happy she recently found a new position.
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My introduction to Mayor Kelly, Spring 2020, as the pandemic was exploding, was her helping us clean the kitchen we set up to feed people who were homeless, making sure COVID did not strike this vulnerable population. No cameras, no press, just the Mayor, after a long day, making sure ALL of the citizens she cared for were safe. She led with smarts and a stubborn refusal to engage with the foolishness of others – rare for any leader, let alone a politician. She and Lisa Shields kept the needs of the city front and center every day. We were lucky to have them.
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Thank you John for the recap. And thank you Mayor Kelly and your team for your service to the city. Your accomplishments are a great example of what bipartisan work looks like. I unfortunately do not have much faith in the new council to continue bipartisan work. As Commissioner of Finance has already said she couldn’t keep Lisa Shields on because it was too political and Mayor Kim has already set up committees within the first few weeks of taking office.
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Meg was a true servant for the people of Saratoga. What you see is what you get. And Saratoga got an honest, dedicated and committed woman whose goal was to make the city a better place as she was leaving than when she was sworn in. May others learn from her example. Saratoga Springs was lucky to have her as Mayor. It is refreshing to see a bipartisan government official working selflessly for her constituents. Fluff doesn’t deliver! Meg Kelly did. Thank you
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