Saratoga County Board Of Supervisors Violated State Law In Their Hiring Of Michael Prezioso as Director of Mental Health

In July of 2014 the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors violated the New York Mental Hygiene Law (MHL) when it appointed Michael Prezioso as the mental health director. The statutory authority to hire Mr. Prezioso rested with the Saratoga County Community Services Board (CSB), not the Supervisors. The governing law, at MHL §41.09, plainly requires the CSB, a quasi-independent board, have the sole authority to hire and fire the director. Unfortunately, over the last decade, in contrast to the surrounding counties, our county government has usurped the responsibilities of the Community Services Board to the detriment of the program. The CSB has apparently atrophied over this time. The legislative reason for mandating the quasi-independence of the CSB is in all likelihood to avoid what happened here which is that patronage trumped merit. The community services board must be comprised of professionals related to the mental health field. It is much easier for a one party system like ours to handle patronage directly rather than go through the cumbersome process of having to strong arm a board of professionals to do its bidding.

A quick Google search by county for the Community Services Boards of Schoharie, Greene, Washington, Warren, Fulton, and Montgomery Counties will bring up sophisticated web sites with profiles of the board members along with their work in overseeing their local mental health department. A search for our own Community Service Board brings up no web site and almost nothing about the Board. There is, for example no list of its members even on the Saratoga County web site. The only reference to the CSB on the county web site informs the searcher when they meet

There is good reason to believe that Dr. Lehr, Mr. Prezioso’s predecessor was also improperly selected by the County Board of Supervisors. In 2010 and 2011 New York State Senator Roy McDonald introduced legislation that would have amended the State law to allow the county to hire and fire the director. What would have prompted Senator McDonald to introduce such legislation? It seems fairly clear that our county government was fully aware of the statutory obstacle to their patronage-driven design and wanted it fixed so as to conform practices and results in a manner suggesting apparent harmony with the law. They failed to take into account that [they] the County would hire someone with a history of sexual harassment, as determined by the State Office of Mental Health, whose inept management of the department would create a major public controversy that would expose their violation of relevant law.

The Statute

First, here is a brief explanation of the New York State Statute covering the hiring of county mental health directors written by Jerry Luhn. Mr. Luhn, who is now retired, was for many years an attorney with the New York State Commission on Quality Care and Advocacy For Persons With Disabilities.

“It seems that what County officials are saying conflicts with what the governing statute requires.  It’s not a suggestion, but a mandated function that reflects the legislature’s expectation that the Board shall do the hiring and firing.  (Also, the statute clearly provides that the Director need not be a resident of the area served (i.e., the county in this case.  One note seemed to suggest that residence was a consideration in the hiring process.)  The County administrators can’t co-op this CSB function, undermining the statutory scheme, for any reason — nor, for that matter, may the CSB simply opt out of one of its vital functions.  If any of its members are not willing to act as directed by law, then they shouldn’t be on the Board, in my view.  So we end up with this.”

Here is the relevant section of the statute

NY Mental Hygiene Law §41.09

(a) Charter governments may provide for appointment and removal of directors in a manner authorized by such governments. In all other local governments, the board shall appoint and remove the director.
Salaries and allowable expenses shall be set by the appointing authority. (b) Each director shall be a psychiatrist or other professional person who meets standards set by the commissioner for the position. If the director is not a physician, he shall not have the power to conduct examinations authorized to be conducted by an examining physician or by a director of community services pursuant to this chapter but he shall designate an examining physician who shall be empowered to conduct such examinations on behalf of such director. A director need not reside in the area to be served. The director shall be a full-time employee except in cases where the commissioner has expressly waived the requirement….

What Happened

The Saratoga County Personnel Committee which was chaired by Anita Daily (Supervisor From Clifton Park) and which included Saratoga Springs Supervisor Matt Veitch requested that the Community Services Board vet the candidates and send a selected list to the committee for its determination. The CSB then sent four names to Daily. They were in order of preference and Prezioso was number four out of four.

The Personnel Committee then selected Prezioso.  Prezioso had been on the Republican Committee for the town of Ballston and had been active in Republican Party politics.  It then made its recommendation to the full Board of Supervisors at its July 15, 2014 meeting.  The language clearly appears to reveal that the county rather than the CSB made the hiring determination.

The following is an article from the Gazette regarding the appointment along with the actual resolution passed by the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors.

The Daily Gazette
Thursday, July 3, 2014
Prezioso chosen for Saratoga County mental health post
BALLSTON SPA — Dr. Michael Prezioso is being recommended to become Saratoga County’s new director of mental health.

The Board of Supervisors’ Personnel Committee on Wednesday recommended him to replace Hans Lehr, who retired in March.

Prezioso, a psychologist, is currently director of inpatient services at the Capital District Psychiatric Center in Albany, where he has worked for 17 years. He was selected from among four applicants recommended by the county’s Community Services Board, said county Personnel Committee Chairwoman Anita M. Daly, R-Clifton Park.

Assuming the Personnel Committee recommendation is approved by the Board of Supervisors later this month, Prezioso would start work Sept. 12. The position has a starting annual salary of $95,338.

In the position, Prezioso will lead the county’s mental health department. The department operates an outpatient treatment clinic, a day-treatment program, and an alcoholism-treatment program, all based at a building on South Broadway in Saratoga Springs. The department averages 1,700 to 2,000 active cases at any given time.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————-

The Resolution Passed By the County Board of Supervisors

Adopted July 15, 2014

APPOINTING MICHAEL S. PREZIOSO, Ph.D. AS DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES

WHEREAS, by reason of the retirement of Hans H. Lehr a vacancy has been created in the position of Director of

Community Mental Health Services; and

WHEREAS, this Board of Supervisors is authorized to appoint the Director of Community Mental Health

Services pursuant to Mental Hygiene Law §41.09; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that Michael S. Prezioso, Ph.D., of the Town of Ballston, New York, be and he hereby is appointed

to the position of Director of Community Mental Health Services at Salary Grade No. 21, STEP 1; and be it further

RESOLVED, that this Resolution shall take effect September 12, 2014.

BUDGET IMPACT: NONE

The Contradictions

Spenser Hellwig, the county administrator, Peter Martin and Matt Veitch have all stated that the Community Services Board was responsible for the hiring and firing of the director.

From the Saratogian Newspaper June 16 edition: “County Administrator Spencer Hellwig said Prezioso’s continued employment with the county rests with the 12-member Community Services Board, composed of professionals in the mental health field. The board hires and fires the county mental health director.”

From an email sent by Matt Veitch on June 22, 2015 to a constituent: “You are correct that the Community Services Board has the statutory authority to hire and fire the Director as well as oversee other aspects of Mental Health Services.  They did work in partnership with County Administration for recommendations when he was hired, but they made the ultimate decision as to the Director’s appointment.”

Dr. Frank Archangello is the chairman of the Saratoga County Community Services Board. I called him today and had a very troubling conversation with him. I will be blogging on that conversation tomorrow.

Barbara Lombardo Retires From The Saratogian

Employed by the Saratogian since 1977,  Lombardo who was executive editor accepted a buyout as did editor Lisa Roberts Lewis along with four other employees.  The blood letting at the Saratogian has turned into a gusher.

Having know Barbara for many, many years and assuming that the continual reduction in resources at the Saratogian must have been very difficult for he,  I wish her the very best in her retirement.

The Best Government Money Can Buy

Notice how all these people have turned their back on the camera.  I think the "made" my spy.
Notice how all these people have turned their back on the camera. I think they “made” my spy.
Todd Shimkus
Todd Shimkus records the event
I think the man on the left is John Safford.  If it is, he is the Republican candidate.   Can anyone identify the man he is talking to?
I think the man on the left is John Safford. If it is, he is the Republican candidate.
Can anyone identify the man he is talking to?
I think these two men are talking about buying city hall and turning it into a massive nail salon.
I think these two men are talking about buying city hall and turning it into a massive nail salon.

Well, the “buy your politician” ethos of Washington D.C. has arrived in Saratoga Springs.  Frustrated by a city council they cannot control, our own local version of big business has decided to go on the offensive.

On Thursday they held their kick off fundraiser at the Stadium Cafe.  It was quite a success drawing more than two hundred attendees.  At the event they were urged to contribute “Five hundred… a thousand dollars.”  These people have deep pockets and they are serious.

Because I signed up on their web site, and even though I did not attend their event, I received this thank you in an email:

To the more than 200 residents and business leaders who turned out for last evening’s Saratoga PAC event at The Stadium Cafe, we want to thank you for supporting this event.  The Saratoga PAC intends to actively support reasonable, balanced and progressive actions as well as the public officials who champion such efforts so that Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County continue to thrive as a great place to live, work and play. You could feel the energy and enthusiasm in the packed room at last night’s event as we discussed our mission and invited everyone to get involved. What unites us is our love for Saratoga and our desire to see it remain great for the long term. Our immediate pursuit is to invite more people who love Saratoga to support and get involved with the Saratoga PAC. So we hope you will invite your friends, neighbors, family and co-workers to learn more about the Saratoga PAC at www.saratogapac.com. On our website, you can join the PAC to be kept informed and/or make a contribution to support our mission!  Thanks again to everyone who attended the event last night or who made a donation to support the mission of the Saratoga PAC! If this statement seems nebulous (and the text on their site is no more informative) it is because the people who organized this event are so tightly networked through their businesses and their social organizations, that they do not have to bother to actually state clearly what their actual purpose is.  C. Wright Mills described these kinds of relationships in his book The Power Elite.

These people believe in “smart growth.”  If any of the readers of this blog know anyone who does not support “smart growth” please post a comment.

In his brief remarks at the event, chair Robert Manz told the attendees that the money they were contributing would not go to individual candidates.  This raises the interesting question of how this money will be spent.  I welcome any speculation people may have on this matter.  If anyone knows Mr. Manz, maybe they could ask him.

I am out of state or I would have attended their kickoff event.  A good friend was kind enough to go to it.  Unfortunately, my friend is not part of the “elite” so my friend could not identify most of the people at the event.  My friend did recognize:

  1. Gary Dake, PAC board member (Stewarts)
  2. Bill Dake (The grand old man)
  3. Sonny Bonnacio, (who does not know who he is?)
  4. Todd Shimkus, executive director of the Chamber
  5. Gordon Boyd, President of an energy consulting firm
  6. Bobby D’Andrea (Past NYS Assemblyman and who tried to get property his family owns in the green belt rezoned for dense development)
  7. Phil Klein, (Past county supervisor and in the insurance business)
  8. Robert Manz, chairman of the PAC (Chief Operating Officer at D.A. Collins- A large construction company
  9. Tom Newkirk (Saratoga National Golf Course)
  10. Cynthia Hollowood, treasurer of the PAC (Holiday Inn)
  11. Joe Dalton (past executive director of the Chamber of Commerce)
  12. Barry Potoker (executive director Saratoga Builders Association)

In addition there were some political figures:

  1. Rick Wirth, Republican candidate for Public Safety
  2. Sara Burger, challenging Chris Matheisen for the Democratic nomination for  Public Safety Commissioner
  3. Ken Ivins, Republican running against Michele Madigan for Finance Commissioner
  4. John Safford, Republican running against Joanne Yepsen for Mayor
  5. Skip Scirocco, Republican Public Works Commissioner

It is particularly telling that both Sara Burger and Rick Worth are at this event.  Given Matheisen’s leadership in opposing the Saratoga National Golf Course’s attempt to breach the green belt, it is safe to say that he is a key target of this group.

It remains to be seen both how this PAC will be spending their money and how much impact they will have on the elections.  Very troubling.

The Strange Involvement By Senator Roy McDonald In Mental Heatlh Administration

Roy McDonald had been the Senator representative Saratoga County.  In 2011 and then in 2012 he introduced a bill to the state legislator to amend section 41.09 of the New York State Mental Hygiene Law to eliminate the hiring/firing mandate assigned to the Community Services Board effective immediately.  The New York State Assembly refused to act on it so the law remains the same.  This casts an odd light on the recent events around the hiring of Michael Prezioso.  It raises questions about how previous hiring was done.  The membership of the Community Services Board is required to be made up of professionals in the mental hygiene field.  Given the disgraceful history of patronage in our county, it is small wonder that there was an attempt to move the authority to the county government.  It remains to be seen whether the county ignored the law when it hired Prezioso.

The Great Mystery! Who hired Michael Prezioso, the Director of the Saratoga Department of Mental Health?

Something called the Community Services Board is responsible for the oversight of the Saratoga County Department of Mental Health.  Spenser Hellwig told the Saratogian that the CSB hired Prezioso.  In an email to a constituent, Matt Veitch who is both the Saratoga Springs Supervisor and the chairman of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, wrote “…they [CBS} made the ultimate decision as to the director’s appointment.”   The truth of these two statements is very much in doubt.

I have FOILed the county for all the records associated with the hiring.  I was notified by the clerk of the Board of Supervisors that I would receive their response on July 6.  It is not a surprise that this is the last day the county would have to respond and be in compliance with FOIL.

Stay tuned.

Politicians Acting Badly: Matt Veitch, Peter Martin, Joanne Yepsen

Dennis Yusko, reporter for the Times Union, recently reported on Michael Prezioso,  the recently hired Director of Mental Health for Saratoga County.  His article documents that Prezioso was hired for the position in spite of the fact that an investigation by the New York State Department of Mental Health  found that he had sexually harassed a female employee for over a year.  In a later  story  he also reports on the exodus of the three psychiatrists that had worked at the department along with other professional staff as a result of Prezioso’s managment.  This is a link to the story: http://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Saratoga-County-mental-health-director-under-fire-6300510.php

What has been most disturbing has been the effort by Saratoga Springs Supervisors Matt Veitch (who currently is the chairman of the Board of Supervisors) and Peter Martin to suppress a public discussion of what is going on.  At the City Council meeting that followed the article linked to above, neither man mentioned the issue.  When pressed by the Saratogian, Veitch offered some vague statement about how the county was looking into the matter.  Members of the Saratoga Springs City Council had planned to put the issue of the Mental Health Department as an item on the Council agenda but were successfully lobbied by both men not to.  When members of the City Council then decided to have a press conference on the issue, both supervisors again campaigned against it.  They were almost successful.

Joanne Yepsen’s office was supposed to take care of publicizing the press conference.  By 4PM on the eve of the press conference, nothing had gone out to the press.  Bear in mind that a variety of people, representatives of several area organizations, and Commissioners Mathiesen and Madigan had arranged their schedules to be at the event the next day.  Dennis Yesko had referenced the upcoming event on his blog.  Jane Weihe called the mayor’s office and was told that the staff knew nothing about it and she wasn’t there.

At 4:28PM  Ms. Weihe texted the mayor asking “Has the press call gone out yet?”

At 4:46PM  Mayor Yepsen texted back “Hi Jane.  We can’t use the City Council Room and Michelle [Madigan} has backed out.  I am at an event.  Can I call you soon?”

Ms. Weihe then called Madigan who said she had not backed out and would be at the event as planned.

The mayor then called Ms. Weihe and told her that her legal council had advised that it would be improper to use the council chambers for the event and that it would be improper for her to lead such an event.  As such, while she would attend the press conference, she would not provide it with space, send out the press releases, or play a leading role.  It is not clear exactly when Yepsen planned to share this change of plans  with the Commissioners and others who planned to attend the press conference the next day

After Eileen Finneran had taken over the task of doing the press call and it had been decided to have the event on the steps of city hall and it became clear that the event was going to go ahead, Yepsen offered to help find another location for it.  Ms. Weihe declined the offer.

Sarah Burger and the Friends She Keeps

Sarah Burger appears to be a one issue candidate.  Her campaign can be pretty much reduced to her attack of Chris Mathiesen over his handling of the deal to build an emergency station on the east side.  She has been pretty much silent on all the other major issues facing the city.  In particular she has been no where to be found on the question of the Saratoga National Golf Course attempt to breach the city’s green belt.

The answer to the mystery may be revealed by the company she keeps.  At her event announcing her run she chose Gary Dake, the head of Stewarts Shops (whose ugly stores are a road map of sprawl) to introduce her.  Mr. Dake is one of the founders of a new PAC which appears to have been created because of the defeat of the Saratoga National Golf Course.    http://wnyt.com/article/stories/s3715797.shtml

In addition, her web site, which contains many pictures from her fund raiser (and which has only the most vague and nebulous statements about where she stands on the issues) has a picture that includes Todd Shimkus, the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.  As far as anyone can tell, Mr. Shimkus has never seen a development he did not love and embrace.  In spite of the fact that his board never took a position on bringing full casinos to Saratoga Springs, after the Racino itself, he was probably the most ardent cheerleader for them.  He was also the full throated advocate for Saratoga National Golf Course’s attempt to breach the city’s greenbelt.  The following is a link from Ms. Burger’s site.  Mr. Shimkus is at the far left of the picture.

Mayor Yepsen Reneges And Entangles Herself

At the June 16 City Council meeting there was a discussion of a letter sent to the Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, regarding the controversy over the deal for the city to purchase land from Joel Aronson for the new eastside emergency services building and for selling land downtown to Mr. Aronson. Following accusations that the city had failed to properly handle the deal and the announcement that Ray Watkin, Tom McTygue, and Remigia Foy were suing the city over the matter, the Attorney General initiated an investigation.

The investigation has dragged on for months as has the lawsuit. The letter, signed by Commissioners Madigan, Scirocco, Franck, and Mathiesen urged the Attorney General to complete the investigation. The letter noted that the issue was being exploited politically running up to the November election and that the Attorney General needed to complete the investigation to resolve the issue prior to the election. It also noted that the city had spent significantly to address both the Attorney General’s investigation and the suit and that the longer this went on, the greater the expense.

Commissioner Mathiesen noted that Mayor Yepsen had agreed to be a signatory and had later refused to sign the letter. He asked if she would explain why. She asserted that the letter had been delivered to her office by one of the deputies of another commissioner “demanding” her signature and when she read the letter she determined she could not sign it. When it was pointed out to her that the letter had been read to her at an earlier meeting and she had strongly endorsed it and agreed to sign it, things got very strange. Readers of this blog are urged to watch the video on the city’s web site. Rather than admit that she had originally agreed to sign she entangled herself in a defense that became more and more bizarre. It included the statement that the law suit had been dropped months ago.  This stunned the other members of the council who asked the obvious question: why had no one been told?  When pressed on this issue the city attorney, who works out of her office, was called to the microphone and indicated that in order to drop the suit there would have had to have been a court filing and the mayor’s office would have been notified. No such notification had been received.  Things just got stranger as the mayor, while trying to extricate herself from this gaff, entangled herself more.

There is much more and this summary does not do the episode justice. To watch the spectacle:
Click on this link:

You cannot make this stuff up.

Disgraceful Behavior Of Head Of Public Defenders Office

Oscar Schrieber was charged with DWI after he allegedly struck a neighbor’s car and also a tree while driving. This video comes from a policeman’s body camera when they went to his home to arrest him.

Updated: Saratoga County lawyer back on payroll after DWI plea

This is the editorial from the Gazette:
Saratoga County public defender should be fired over DWI arrest
June 18, 2015
In 8 minutes and 32 seconds, Oscar Schreiber proved why he’s no longer fit to be Saratoga County’s chief public defender and why he should be fired.
It was during that amount of time, as shown on a police camera recording, that Schreiber demonstrated not only a disregard for the citizens he represents, but for the law he pledged to defend and respect.
Schreiber was arrested in March for driving while intoxicated after he crashed into a parked car, nearly ran over someone in their own driveway and knocked down a lamp post on
Police body camera video details the arrest of Saratoga County Public Defender Oscar Schreiber on drunken-driving and hit-and-run charges after a March 22, 2015, incident in which Schreiber drove over two lawns and hit a lamppost and another car in his Saratoga Springs neighborhood. (Warning: adult language)
His blood alcohol level, measured well after the crash and following his arrest in his home, was found to be 0.20 percent. That’s 2-1/2 times the legal limit for drunk driving. Because of the time elapsed, it was likely higher when he was behind the wheel.
On the surface, it seems like a routine first offense misdemeanor DWI. No one was hurt. He paid a fine. He went to rehab. He does a great job organizing the public defender’s office. Let it go, right?
Not so fast.
Last week, Saratoga Springs police released an 8-minute, 32-second video they shot of two city officers confronting Schreiber in his home shortly after the crash.
It was eye-opening, and not in a good way for Mr. Schreiber.
Most obvious from the video was how completely intoxicated he appeared. He could barely speak, slurring so badly there were times the officers couldn’t understand him. The only way he stayed upright was by bracing himself against a wall. In moving, he staggered. This is a man who only minutes before was behind the wheel of a car.
It gets worse.
In responding to one officer’s questions, Schreiber repeatedly changes his story about how he became so drunk, repeating numerous times that he only had two drinks, that he wasn’t driving, that he got drunk at home and that he did not strike anything with his car — this despite being confronted with an eyewitness account and the officer’s own observations of the crash scene and Schreiber’s vehicle.
He couldn’t even remember the name of the restaurant where he had dinner earlier in the evening.
“I was not driving while intoxicated,” he told officers at one point. “I did not leave the scene of the accident,” he told them at another.
During those 8 minutes and 32 seconds, he repeatedly refused a request by officers to take a field sobriety test — the same test that many of the people he represents in court are required to take upon being confronted with a DWI charge.
Perhaps most damning for his case for keeping his job as an officer of the Saratoga County court was his repeated attempts to use his influential position to try to get out of being arrested
Several times during the 8 minutes and 32 seconds, either he or his wife told officers that he was a lawyer and chief public defender. So in addition to being stone drunk to the point of falling over, he compounded his troubles by trying to use his influence to weasel out of a crime.
Is this the kind of person who should be representing the public in court? Is this the kind of behavior we expect from our public officials? Sure, many people have found themselves in his position, confronted with their own guilt and trying desperately to save their skin.
But a public defender is not an ordinary citizen. He represents not only a profession solely designated to uphold the law, but he serves in a position in which he represents others in a court of law.
How does someone who brazenly and repeatedly lies to police, then resorts to the old, “Do you know who I am?!” line to try to get out of it, continue to hold public office? How do defendants trust him? How do judges? How do other public officials who don’t drive drunk and who don’t defy police and who don’t try to use their positions to influence a police officer turn their backs on that kind of behavior? How does the guy he almost ran over?
It doesn’t matter if he’s sorry. It doesn’t matter if he’s getting help for his problem. As a public official, he violated the public trust, and he should no longer be serving in a taxpayer-funded public position.
Some positive developments came out of that video. The first was the video itself. In all the uproar over police brutality, body and vehicle cameras were largely intended to protect the public when it was a police officer’s word vs. a citizen’s. The cameras were also supposed to serve as a deterrent to officers’ bad behavior, the theory being that they’d be less likely to beat the tar out of someone if a camera was pointed at them.
But this video had the effect of showing officers conducting themselves in an appropriate, lawful, ethical and, frankly, impressive manner. It showed how difficult their jobs can be. And it substantiated the legal case against someone who had clearly committed a crime.
If Saratoga County officials can get through that 8 minutes and 32 seconds and still keep Schreiber on the job, then they’ll be committing their own brand of crime — against the citizens they’ve sworn to serve.