City to Experiment with Downtown Bike Path

The city will set up temporary bike lanes on Henry Street to see what impact two way bike lanes will have. According to today’s (9/13/19) Gazette Newspapers:

The pilot project will allow the city to test a low-cost idea for the urban segment of the Saratoga Greenbelt Trail, a larger plan for a bicycle and multiuse loop through the countryside around the city and into its downtown core. Henry Street will be made one-way southbound between Lake Avenue and Spring Street, parking will be limited to the west side of the road, and temporary two-way bike lanes will be marked on the east side, to see if Henry could feasibly become part of an-street bike route.

Steve Williams has written an excellent piece describing the project in more detail and placed it in the context of the wider project.

Lew Benton Puts Council Salaries in Historical Perspective

Have read with interest your post on the proposed increase in City Council member compensation.

As I understand, the annual salary would climb from $14,500 to $30,000, a jump of 107%.

A few observations.  First, while the mayor suggests that ‘…Council seats are supposed to be part time’, that has never been memorialized in the current or previous city charters, including the original 1915 Charter.  Certainly though, most, but not all, past council members have held full time jobs or were self employed outside of their council duties and were thus de facto part timers.

Only the independently wealthy or retired could afford to serve without meaningful outside employment income.

The city’s longest tenured commissioner of public safety, for example, was a well known surgeon who managed to run the department with somewhat of an iron fist and, in the process was indicted a number of times before finally resigning for good.  Many others have served credibly on a part time basis while holding down a full time job, profession or business.

What is little known, though, is that for many years the council members were reported to the State Comptroller, for pension credit purposes, as “full time.”  I believe that meant a minimum of 30 hours weekly. Such reporting would allow a member to be vested in the state retirement system in a much shorter period of time.  There may have been a Council resolution adopted sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s establishing that threshold, at least for retirement benefits.

In the “Rational” appended to the current Charter approved by the voters in November  2001, the Charter Revision Commission noted on page 11:  “As the complexity of government operations increases in Saratoga Springs., the ‘part time’ council may soon become a thing of the past.  There are compelling reasons for moving to a system of full-time elected officials, but we (the Charter Revision Commission) do not think it is in our purview to mandate that.”

It is not correct that, as your entry states, the current rate of $14,500 has been in place since 2001.   The $14,500 salary dates to the 1994 budget year following adoption of a 1993 local law.

The 2000-2001 Charter Revision Commission considered including a salary increase in the then proposed Charter, but ultimately decided to leave it at $14,500.

Wrote the Commission: “For the time being, we chose to keep the compensation at its current level for council members and leave it to them (and ultimately the voters) to decide when the time is ripe to increase he salary.”

In hindsight, we may have been influenced by a concern that a salary increase would compromise the proposal’s adoption at referendum.

So, Council members have not seen a salary increase since 1994, almost 26 years.  Inflationary pressure would make $14,500 in 1994 the equivalent of $25,103 today, an overall increase of 73%.

You may find it interesting that the first City Council members, meeting on June 22, 1915, were salaried at $500 annually.  Deputy salaries varied with the deputy commissioner of finance awarded $1,400 annually, public works $1,500 public safety $1,200.  In that first government there was no deputy accounts commissioner title and, of course, no deputy mayor.

The Council member salary of $500 would be worth about $12,700 in 2019 dollars.

My paternal  grandfather is listed as the first city stenographer at $720 annually.  My wife Linda’s maternal grandfather, Tom Gorman, was deputy commissioner of public safety at the grand total of $1,200.

Hope you find this interesting.

Lew

 

 

Libertarian Party Announces Its Slate

THE LIBERTARIANswwe PARTY OF SARATOGA COUNTY NOMINATES CANDIDATES TO APPEAR ON NOVEMBER BALLOT

For Release: September 7, 2019 12:01AM

 Saratoga Springs, NY – The Libertarian Party of Saratoga County has nominated the following candidates for elected office:

 Robin Dalton – Commissioner of Public Safety – City of Saratoga Springs

Stephen Mittler – Supervisor – City of Saratoga Springs

Phil Barrett – Supervisor – Town of Clifton Park

Ray O’Conor – Town Board – Town of Wilton

Kirk Woodcock – Highway Supervisor – Town of Wilton

David Towne – Town Justice – Town of Wilton

Matthew Coseo – Town Justice – Town of Wilton

 These candidates will appear on the ballot under the Libertarian Party line this November.

“Our committee did great work in a short period of time, interviewing every single candidate that requested our endorsement, said Libertarian Party Chairman Rob Arrigo.  “In the end we felt that these candidates best represented the Libertarian values of smaller government and more personal freedom.  We look forward to helping them win in November.”

 

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About the Saratoga County Libertarian Party

The Saratoga County Libertarian Party was granted official interim county organization status by the New York State Libertarian Party on Sunday, June 30th.  The county committee filed its bylaws with the board of elections on July 3rd, making their status official according to New York State Election Law. The Libertarian Party of New York became an officially recognized political party in NYS when gubernatorial candidate Larry Sharpe earned more than 90,000 votes statewide during the 2018 election.  

 

 

 

Murphy Lane’s Virtual Barn: The Parking Signs Are Up

The parking signs are up on Murphy Lane.

Readers will recall that the latest chapter in this controversial property’s history involved ads indicating there were two parking spaces on this property when only one had been approved.

The city has put up signs at the entries to Murphy Lane at each cross street it passes through. In addition, the neighbor across the alley from the virtual barn who has had to suffer the brunt of the many inconveniences caused by this “conversion”,  has put up his own parking notification sign. His sign sets out the city’s zoning requirements for a parking space.

In the meantime, the Zillow posting for the property no longer claims the property has two parking spaces but instead indicates there is one offsite parking space presumably anywhere the new owner can find a spot on a neighborhood street. I guess that is progress.

Bill McTygue and Ann Bullock: Their Reckless Attack

The August 13 edition of the Saratogian contained an article on the decision by the Saratoga Springs Ethics Board to dismiss complaints brought by Bill McTygue and Ann Bullock.  McTygue and Bullock, rather than address the substance of why the Ethics Board rejected their allegations, doubled down by making even wilder accusations.  It is particularly disturbing that they used the Saratogian to try to smear the character of some very good people.

Take for example the following quote from Mr. McTygue:

“Unfortunately, this decision by the City’s Ethics Board is dictated by the politics of City Hall generally, and the lack of credibility of the City Attorney specifically.”

This is reminiscent of Senator Joe McCarthy’s infamous allegation about Communist infiltration of the State Department:

“I have here in my hand a list of two hundred and five people that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party…”

So, Mr. McTygue and Ms. Bullock, one might ask, who were these people in city hall who you accuse of conspiring to subvert the deliberations of the Ethics Board? How exactly did they suborn the Ethics Board?  Did they offer some kind of incentives to the members of the Ethics Board to violate their responsibilities?  I will deal with their ugly aspersion against the City Attorney below, but how exactly was he involved in this dark conspiracy?   Like the alleged two hundred and five names in Joseph McCarthy’s hand, we will never know.

Mr. McTygue and Ms. Bullock also assert in the article:

“Therefore, based on further information we have uncovered in the development of this complaint, and because the City Attorney had already predetermined the outcome of our complaint, by his June 18 letter, we have forwarded this issue to the New York State Attorney General for further investigation and action.”

It is rather impressive how many slurs McTygue/Bullock have crammed into this paragraph.  It requires parsing.

We are told that they “uncovered” even more malefactions, the details of which they apparently plan to share with the New York State Attorney General but not with the public.  We must go on faith that they have the goods.

They accuse the City Attorney of predetermining the Ethics Board decision.  As he is not a member of the Ethics Board nor does he function as their counsel, they do not offer any explanation as to how he exerted control over the Ethics Board.

Their “proof” is that the City Attorney wrote them a letter on June 18 (well before the Ethics Board issued its opinion) in which he laid out in some detail the fallacies in both their use of the Ethics Code and New York State Municipal Law.

The problem is that McTygue and Bullock, rather than submit their complaint on the proper forms used by the Ethics Board, made their complaint as a letter addressed to both Vince DeLeonardis, the City Attorney, and Justin Hogan, the chair of the Ethics Board.

As they say, no good deed goes unpunished.  Mr. DeLeonardis showed them the respect of responding to their letter.  Mr. McTygue and Ms. Bullock conveniently leave out that they had written to Mr. DeLeonardis which logically produced a response.  The cynicism of using Mr. DeLeonardis’ own letter to question his “credibility” is unfortunately representative of their modus operandi.

Then there is this assertion:

“Additionally, we have obtained further evidence of the City’s mishandling of this matter since our original complaint was filed, including the agreement between the City and Energy Now Consultants, which the City Attorney (acting as Records Access Officer) said did not exist in his response to our FOIL request of June 8, 2019.”

The response they received from the city did not come from the City Attorney, it came from the City’s FOIL officer who is Trish Bush.   Accuracy is simply unimportant to these people, especially when they want to discredit Mr. DeLeonardis.  More to the point they grossly misrepresent what happened by leaving out some key information.

It is true that the original FOIL response did not include the “agreement” document.  Subsequent to the original response, John Franck realized that he had a copy of a document that could be considered an “agreement.”  He advised Ms. Bush and Mr. DeLeonardis of this and they promptly sent Mr. McTygue and Ms. Bullock the document.

While it is technically true that McTygue and Bullock were advised that the document did not exist, they conveniently leave out that the document was subsequently found and sent to them.  To read their characterization of what happened you would think that the city had improperly refused to provide the document and that somehow they managed to secure it on their own.

So first let’s look at their FOIL request.  They requested:

“Contract/Agreement between city and energy broker referred to in minutes, City Council meeting May 21, 2019 (minutes); Letter of Authority with energy procurement broker referred to in said minutes; Letter of Exclusivity for energy procurement broker referred to in said Minutes; All Pricing options for electricity and gas presented to the city by energy procurement broker; Agreement concerning energy brokerage commission division between City and energy procurement broker”

Now Gordon Boyd had, until he sold his company, provided these broker services to the city through an agreement with the Chamber of Commerce.  So he would have been familiar with the kind of documents that would have been required and the list of items in their FOIL reflected this.  I expect that Mr. Boyd, a fellow White Walker, had advised them about the agreement.

What I find interesting is their further mishandling of the FOIL.  In their identification as to what they are seeking they advise that descriptions of those items can be found in the minutes of the May 21, 2019 Council meeting.  For example their FOIL request asks for the “Contract/Agreement between city and energy broker referred to in minutes [emphasis added], City Council meeting May 21, 2019 (minutes);”

The problem is that there are no such references in the minutes of the May 21, 2019 meeting.  The closest thing to a reference to EnergyNow in the minutes reads:

“The broker found the best price with Constellation Energy.”  That’s it.  There are no references to any of the documents they are seeking in the minutes.

This is emblematic of the sloppiness of how Mr. McTygue and Ms. Bullock dealt with the whole FOIL request

So here is a challenge to my readers:   This is a link to the minutes.  Anyone who can find any of the references Mr. McTygue or Ms. Bullock used in their FOIL in the minutes of the May 21 Council meeting will win a bottle of twelve year old McCallum Single Malt Scotch.

Assuming there are no references in the minutes, I would be interested in anyone’s theory as to how they made such an error.  Is it possible they never bothered to actually read the minutes of the meeting?

My understanding is that Trish Bush, who is the FOIL officer for the city could not find anything in the minutes so she polled the Mayor and the Commissioners to see if they had any of the documents being sought. Commissioner of Accounts John Franck provided her with the energy utilization data but nothing else. information-release-authorization-agreement.pdf

In July John Franck realized that in fact he had signed a document making EnergyNow the city’s agent.  He contacted Mr. DeLeonardis and Ms. Bush and sent them the document (https://saratogaspringspolitics.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/information-release-authorization-agreement.pdf).

On August 14 Ms. Bush sent McTygue and Bullock an amended update to the FOIL with the document.

Mr. McTygue’s remarks to the Saratogian quoted above made it sound as though only his and Ms. Bullock’s sleuthing revealed the additional document whereas it was voluntarily forwarded to him and from the beginning Ms. Bush showed due diligence trying to fulfill their FOIL request.

As someone who has been through the FOIL process I would offer to the readers of this blog that under Scott Johnson’s administration getting a FOIL response was almost impossible.  Mr. DeLeonardis and Ms. Bush could easily have exploited the sloppiness of the Bullock/McTygue FOIL request in order to be unresponsive claiming they could find no references in the minutes of the May 21 meeting to the documents sought.  Instead they obviously went beyond the call of duty to locate the sought after materials.

I cannot end this blog without rising in defense of Vincent DeLeonardis and Trish Bush.  These are two outstanding people whose integrity is beyond reproach.  We are all fortunate to have them serving this city.

It is distressing that in their campaign to change the city’s form of government (both Mr. McTygue and Ms. Bullock are in the leadership of the city manager effort) these people think nothing of trampling on the names of people in our city government in order to try to portray the current administration as corrupt and incompetent and thus urgently in need of a change in government.

 

 

 

City Council To Consider Raising Salaries For Future Commissioners

On Tuesday September 3rd there will be a public hearing on a proposal to raise the salaries of future members of the Saratoga Springs City Council from the current $14,500.00 per year to $30,000.00 per year.  The salaries of the council members have not changed since 2001.  By my count that is some eighteen years without an increase.

In the August 27 edition of the Gazette Newspaper Mayor Meg Kelly discussed why she believes it is time for an increase. At the August 20 Council meeting the mayor told her colleagues:

“As we are entering the [2020] budget season, the time is right for a fair and reasonable discussion about these salaries, considering the duties, responsibilities, time commitment and the goal of attracting qualified, diverse candidates.”

Expanding on the issue of salaries she noted:

“Council members are supposed to be part-time,” Kelly said. “Consider what $14,500 per year means: At 20 hours per week, you get $13.94 per hour, at 30 hours a week you get $9.29 an hour, at 50 hours per week you get $5.58 per hour. Next year, New York state’s minimum wage will be $11.80 an hour.”

The reality is that the Commissioners and the Mayor work many more than twenty hours a week. In the case of Mayor Kelly it’s fair to say she works considerably more than forty hours a week.

I have done a rough, back of the envelope analysis of the increase.  After adding social security to the increase of $15,500.00 per council member, I estimate the cost for the increase would be $83,430.00.  Any attempt at computing the effect on taxes is problematic as revenues change and costs for running the city change.  Also, there are different tax rates in the outer and inner districts of the city.  Still, assuming that this was the only expense added to the previous tax rates, the increase would be roughly 2.6 cents per thousand.

So we are talking about a minuscule impact on the taxpayers.

If we want to attract good people to run for office we need to pay them a modest amount.

I would ask the readers of this blog, how much would you want to be paid per hour  just to sit through the City Council agenda meetings and general meetings twice a month?

I find it very frustrating listening to uninformed people sneer at public officials and dismiss their dedication.  If we treat them with disrespect, how can we expect good people to take on the burden of office?  Paying this modest increase is something they fully deserve.  I hope people will turn out to the hearing on Tuesday, September 3, 2019 and support the proposed increases.