Casino Presents Housing Proposal To Council After Planning Board Unanimously Opposes Project

According to the January 15 Daily Gazette, Saratoga Casino Hotel will be presenting plans to the Saratoga Springs City Council tonight (January 15) to build “affordable housing” at the corner of Jefferson and Crescent Avenue.  The Casino is working with Liberty Affordable Housing of Rome, NY.  They want to build a 192 rental unit complex on 30 wooded acres.

The Casino has indicated it is hoping to provide housing to its employees there.  The requirements for the grants and tax breaks that would be needed do not allow them to restrict the applicants to their employees.  It also remains unclear how many of their employees could afford to live in the units.  Many of the Casino’s employees are very low paid and “affordable” is not the same as low income housing.

According to the Gazette, “The City Planning Board unanimously gave the project an unfavorable recommendation in September, but the developer is proceeding anyway.”

In order to build the project the city would need to amend its Comprehensive Plan which right now designates the area “rural residential.”  The Gazette reported that the Planning Board’s decision was based on the fact that the change to the Comprehensive Plan would be permanent and it would be possible to build market rate-driven apartments there if this project did not go forward.   This area is essentially part of the city’s greenbelt and there will be resistance to projects that breach its character.

Attorney Matthew Jones who represent the developers asserted that the proposed zoning change was written to restrict the tenants to people with work force incomes.

The Planning Board also cited the fact that the city has currently approved or is considering 550 more work force units “integrated within the fabric of the city” whereas the Liberty project would be more isolated.




SAVE – ( Saratogians Against Vegas-Style Expansion ) has a Facebook page.  They recently posted the following:

We received this message last night and wanted to share it here with our supporters who are neighbors of the Racino:

To the dedicated members of SAVE,
We write to you as Saratoga residents of the Jefferson Street/Crescent Avenue neighborhood. Many of us worked with SAVE and the Saratoga community to fight the casino expansion proposal in 2014. Unfortunately, our neighborhood is once again fighting the aggressive tactics of The Saratoga Casino group .

As residents of the diverse working class neighborhood of the south side of Saratoga, we are proponents of affordable housing. We have respect for the multifaceted considerations involved in the development of a project of this magnitude and appreciate the affordable housing guidelines and suggestions put forth by The City of Saratoga Planning Board/City Council. We believe that proposals for large scale housing developments should adhere to the city’s zoning regulations.

The Saratoga Casino and Liberty Affordable Housing LLC have put forth a proposal that has no regard for the Council’s guidelines and is in direct conflict with the current residential zoning regulations. Liberty Affordable Housing LLC has a proposal to build two four-story apartment buildings on the corner of Jefferson Street and Crescent Avenue. According to the proposal, this housing would be built exclusively for employees that work at the casino. The four-story buildings are intended to house 190+ units and 276 parking spaces. As immediate neighbors of the Saratoga Casino, the scale and unsuitable location of this proposed housing development concerns us.

The zoning for our neighborhood is residential, which would make building a property of this magnitude illegal. However, Liberty Affordable Housing LLC (in partnership with the Saratoga Casino) is petitioning the city to change the neighborhood’s residential zoning to EQ zoning ( “Equine and Related Facilities”).This would allow the four story buildings to be built. The zoning amendment proposal was brought to the Planning Board/City Council of Saratoga Springs, where all 7 board members were in agreement of an “unfavorable advisory opinion”. A public hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday 1/15/19, 6pm at City Hall (temporary location 15 Vanderbilt Avenue). We are of the opinion that most individuals in the residential areas surrounding the Saratoga Casino are unaware of the housing development proposal or the public hearing.

We have attached our neighborhood response which will be presented at the public hearing on 1/15/18. We would welcome any advice, publication or community support SAVE might be willing to offer if you find this issue to be in line with SAVE’s goals and perspective.

Thank you for your time, we look forward toward your response,
Saratoga Clubhouse Estates Homeowners Association

 

The Times Union Is A Newspaper But What It Practices, As Documented By Wendy Liberatore’s Recent Article, Is Not Journalism  

From the Public Editor of the New York Times

“Simply put, false balance is the journalistic practice of giving equal weight to both sides of a story, regardless of an established truth on one side. And many people are fed up with it. They don’t want to hear lies or half-truths given credence on one side, and shot down on the other. They want some real answers.”

One of the unanticipated benefits of the presidency of Donald Trump is that it has required the press to ask some difficult questions about how to cover the news.  Simply repeating statements that are false, unproven, or badly misleading because of the status of the speaker is no longer acceptable.  For thoughtful discussions of this I offer the following links in addition to the one above:

“The Death of He Said she Said Journalism” by Peter Beinart in the Atlantic Monthly  

“’He Said She Said’ Journalism: Are We Done With That Yet”  by Jay Rosen at the HuffPost

Nowhere is this problem more apparent than in the December 23   story by Wendy Liberatore that the Times Union was apparently so impressed with that they published it on their front page.

In her article Ms. Liberatore offers two opposing narratives to her readers.  This is reflected right from the beginning of her article which described Mayor Kelly’s swearing in ceremony and the state of the city message.

The first narrative has the Mayor seeking to create an environment which is meant to create trust and collegiality in the interest of developing a working legislative body.  

The other narrative, given the same status and credibility, presents Mayor Kelly as sharing the event because she is “weak” and an easy victim of manipulation by unnamed colleagues.  The text uses terms like “abdication” and warns the reader of a mayor “ceding” her authority to the “senior members of the council.”  Ms. Liberatore repeats the “critic’s” accusation that these same unnamed persons had spent years  “repressing (Ms. Liberatore’s term) Joanne Yepsen” prior to Mayor Kelly’s election. This latter narrative is supported by quoting former mayor Ray Watkin [JK: Ms. Liberatore misspells Mr. Watkin’s name as Watkins].

The beginning of her piece:

Mayor Meg Kelly made it clear at her first state of the city address that she was unlike previous city leaders. After her message to the people, she stepped aside to allow each member of the City Council to give their own speech.

 The unusual move was hailed by some as an olive branch to her fellow elected officials, who have been locked in a 3-2 divide on City Council for years. Ellen Kiehl, a member of the city’s Democratic Committee, said the gesture led to a governing body where “a high degree of comity and civility is on display.”

 But critics of Kelly saw it as a gesture of abdication, a ceding of authority to the senior council members who spent years repressing Kelly’s predecessor Joanne Yepsen. 

One former mayor, Ray Watkins [sic], said that it is an example of how she is not acting independently. “The council members are steering her actions, not the people,” he said.

Not that those of us who follow city politics do not know who the “critics” might be but it would have been helpful to know more specifically who she is referring to.  I assume she is referring to the most zealous advocates of the city manager charter.  I say “most zealous” because being in support of the city manager charter does not necessarily place you in a camp that attacks Mayor Meg Kelly.  I do not presume to be a journalist but as a reader of the TU I would have liked to know more precisely who she is talking about.

Her story certainly begins dramatically.  It may very well sell newspapers and generate lots of clicks on the Times Union website but no one should confuse this with quality journalism.  To put this in context, see if you can imagine a story like this running in the New York Times or the Washington Post, or for a local example, the Daily Gazette. 

By Ms. Liberatore’s standards it is unnecessary for Mr. Watkin to offer any evidence of his accusation.  He is free to use the Times Union as his platform to make this kind of unsubstantiated attack. 

In a similar vein Dr. Robert Turner, past chair of the 2017 Charter Review Commission, asserts, without any supporting evidence, that Mayor Kelly created her own 2018 Charter Review Commission in order to keep the supporters of the city manager option from putting their proposal up for referendum in the next election.  The creation of the 2018 Charter Commission did delay Mr. Turner’s group and it is understandable that he should not be pleased but how does he know that she did it simply to frustrate his group?  After all she publicly endorsed his proposal last year and even appeared on LookTV in support of it.

Someone named Anne Trainor is allowed to attack the mayor in even more lurid terms.  She characterizes the mayor as “sneaky.”  She accuses the mayor as having gone over to “the other side” [JK: In this Manichean world there are only two sides].  Ms. Liberatore allows Ms. Trainor to conjecture, “I think she must have felt bullied by the council.”

Later in the piece Ray Watkin asserts that the 2018 Charter proposal’s defeat “…was a referendum on her (Mayor Kelly’s) leadership.”  One might have expected Ms. Liberatore to either not publish such a statement or at least ask Mr. Watkin how he determined that people who voted against the proposal did so to express their opposition to Mayor Kelly. 

I know that the readers of this blog represent a broad spectrum.  I speculate [JK: I am not a journalist] that whichever way they voted on the 2018 charter they did not do so to express their feelings about the mayor, one way or the other.

Mr. Watikin asserts that her actions were “undemocratic.”  Maybe he was referring to the controversial make up of the mayor’s commission which was comprised of council members, their deputies, and the city attorney.  Some in our community believed that it should have included people outside of our government.  I don’t agree with this but it is a valid point that deserves consideration.  Unfortunately this kind of issue oriented argument was not part of her article.  It seems axiomatic that since the final decision was made by the voters in a referendum, Mayor Kelly can hardly be attacked for being undemocratic.

As if all of this was not enough. Ms. Liberatore goes on to quote Mr. Watkin as saying, “Evidently, someone got to her and she got frightened.”  To Ms. Liberatore’s credit she does offer in the following paragraph that “It’s hard to imagine Kelly frightened.”  

In December the City Council unanimously endorsed a resolution opposing the Saratoga Springs School Board’s decision to disarm it’s school monitors.  Ms. Liberatore writes, “Barbara Thomas of the League of Women Voters told the mayor and the City Council that ‘It’s not appropriate to try to tell the school board that covers a much wider area than the city of Saratoga Springs what to do.’” 

I know that some of my readers may consider me a nitpicker but I took the time to watch the video of the meeting in question.  When Barbara Thomas spoke she did not identify herself as associated with the League of Women Voters.  When I read Ms. Liberatore’s article I assumed, based on her attribution, that Ms. Thomas spoke on behalf of the League.  In order to further her narrative about opposition to the mayor, the opposition of the League would be important which is clearly not the case.  I would also note that as the children of Saratoga Springs attend the school district it seems more than a stretch to argue that the City Council should not take a position on the question.

It is important to point out that Ms. Liberatore’s article included voices that offered strong praise for the mayor as the opening paragraph above demonstrates.  The issue here is that this does not absolve Ms. Liberatore of the problem with her standards of journalism.  “He said/She said” is a problem because it provides a platform for unsubstantiated pronouncements that are not journalisticly appropriate.

Ms. Liberatore is a bright and thoughtful person.  In her previous job as the arts reporter for the Daily Gazette she wrote many lively and informative pieces on theater, music, and dance which I very much enjoyed.  This TU article was dramatic.  I expect that was why the Times Union ran it on the front page of their Sunday edition.  I am sure the electronic version got many clicks.  Still this is tabloid journalism in the Rupert Murdoch tradition.

Ms. Liberatore, in the same article, informs her readers that Mayor Kelly declined to be interviewed for her article.  It should come as no surprise to anyone, Ms. Liberatore in particular, that Mayor Kelly would refuse to participate in this kind of newspaper coverage.

In the end the most troubling product of this kind of article is the coarsening of public discourse.  Most people in our community want a thoughtful discussion of public policy.  Invective only serves to alienate them.  One of the things Mayor Kelly has done at the City Council table is to put issues and civil discourse rather than animosity as a priority.  It is all too easy humanly to want to defend oneself from attack.  It is to the mayor’s credit that she has chosen not to engage in this kind of thing.

Ms. Liberatore and I exchanged a series of emails on her article.  I will be reprinting and discussing them in my next post.

 

 

Mayor Kelly Makes Land Use Board Appointments

At the December 18, 2018, City Council meeting Mayor Meg Kelly announced appointments to three city boards.

I am familiar with three of the land use board appointments:  Jerry Luhn, Kathleen O’Connor, and Sarah Boivin. While I do not know all of them well, I know that they are not directly associated with the real estate industry.  I feel confident that they will be excellent appointments.  I am not familiar with the other two who were appointed as alternates on these boards.

Sarah Boivin’s appointment to the  Planning Board is particularly noteworthy as I recall her playing an important leadership role in opposing the expansion of casino gambling in Saratoga Springs several years ago.

I am not a fan of Brendan Chudy who was reappointed to the Ethics Board.   As the readers of this blog may recall, working with the Public Safety Commissioner, Chris Mathiesen, a number of us advocated for amendments to the city ethics code meant to strengthen it.  Mr. Chudy did not only oppose these changes, he was openly hostile to them.  I was singularly impressed with the poverty of his arguments, especially in light of the fact that he is an attorney.  Fortunately the City Council adopted the changes anyway.

The following is part of the transcript from the meeting where the Mayor made the appointments and gave a short bio for each appointee.

APPOINTMENTS: CITY BOARDS

Tonight I am making appointments for the City’s Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals.  These do not require the approval of Council, pursuant to City Charter section Title 3, Section J.

Zoning Board of Appeals

We have two re-appointments and two new appointments.  New appointees include:

  1. Kathleen O’Connor, Alternate, 2-year term runs from 1/1/2019 through 12/31/2020

Kathleen is a City resident who is has been employed by NYSERDA, the NYS Energy and Research Development Authority for 16 years, currently as a Senior Project Manager member of the Energy Efficiency Department.  Kathleen has been an Adjunct Professor at the University of Albany teaching graduate level courses.  She received an MS from University of California-Davis, and both a BS and BA from the University of Michigan.

  1. Jerry Luhn, ful-time  member, replacing resignee, term runs from 1/1/2019 through 12/31/2020

Jerry is a City resident and Attorney who served twenty-seven years as Assistant Counsel to the NYS Commission on Quality of Care prior to retirement from State service.  Previously, he practiced with the Legal Aid Society in this region for ten years, serving as the first managing attorney of the Saratoga Springs Office.  He has also been a VISTA volunteer with an anti-poverty law office in Brooklyn.

Re-appointees include:

  1. Rebecca Kern, Alternate, 2 year term runs from 1/1/2019 through 12/31/2020

Rebecca recently completed the term of a former ZBA member and has been asked to sit for a full term as alternate.

Planning Board

We have two new appointees for the Planning Board:

  1. Shawna Jenks, Alternate, 2 year term runs from 1/1/2019 through 12/31/2020

Shawna is a City resident with strong family roots in the community.  They have been involved in several previously and currently owned small local businesses, as well as worked with and as local government officials. Shawna is currently partners in a business opening this June 2019 in downtown Saratoga, the Whitman Brewing company.

  1. Sara Boivin, 7 year full time, term runs from 01/1/19 through12/31/25

Sara is a City Resident employed as the Art Curator for the Fine Arts and Yates Gallery at Sienna College.  She has been a, Community Organizer, and was formerly with the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation where planning, zoning and design issues were often addressed.

ETHICS BOARD

I am also making Ethics Board appointments this evening.  Council approval is required for Ethics Board appoints, pursuant to the Code of Ethics (2015) Section 13-5 (C).

Two recommendations are re-appointees:

  1. Brendan Chudy,5 year term running from 1/1/2019 through 12/31/2023

 

  1. Eileen Venn, 5 year term running from 1/1/2019 through 12/31/2023

The third recommendation is a new appointee, whose resume was circulated to Council members on Friday December 14th:

  1. Kathy Jacques,  5 year term running from 1/1/2019 through 12/31/2023

Kathy is a City resident and Registered Nurse currently working for MVP in Utilization management.  She has also been with Saratoga Hospital in the Surgery Center/Emergency Department as well as other regional medical sites. Kathy also has Board experience with the Waldorf School of Saratoga. Springs.

 

 

Contributions During Recent Charter Campaign

The following information is from the New York State Board of Elections reporting on the contributions made by proponents and opponents of the most recent charter proposition.  SUCCESS supported the charter update on the November ballot and Its Time Saratoga opposed it.

Contributions to SUCCESS

UNITEMIZED

,

99.00 22-MAR-18 SARATOGIANS UNITED TO CONTINUE THE CHARTER ESSENTIAL TO SUSTAIN OUR SUCCESS (SUC 2018 July Periodic A N/A N/A
DALTON, JOSEPH
LOUGHBURY RD
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
150.00 17-OCT-18 SARATOGIANS UNITED TO CONTINUE THE CHARTER ESSENTIAL TO SUSTAIN OUR SUCCESS (SUC 2018 11 Pre General A N/A N/A
FINCH, HARRIETT M
268 CHURCH ST
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
90.00 17-OCT-18 SARATOGIANS UNITED TO CONTINUE THE CHARTER ESSENTIAL TO SUSTAIN OUR SUCCESS (SUC 2018 11 Pre General A N/A N/A
INGMIRE, LANCE
44 TROMBLEY RD
STILLWATER, NY 12170
100.00 17-OCT-18 SARATOGIANS UNITED TO CONTINUE THE CHARTER ESSENTIAL TO SUSTAIN OUR SUCCESS (SUC 2018 11 Pre General A N/A N/A
POKOIK, LEE
NORTH BROADWAY
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
100.00 15-OCT-18 SARATOGIANS UNITED TO CONTINUE THE CHARTER ESSENTIAL TO SUSTAIN OUR SUCCESS (SUC 2018 11 Pre General A N/A N/A
SELLERS, BONNITA
P.O. BOX789
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
250.00 13-OCT-18 SARATOGIANS UNITED TO CONTINUE THE CHARTER ESSENTIAL TO SUSTAIN OUR SUCCESS (SUC 2018 11 Pre General A N/A N/A
SELLERS, RICHARD
73 FIFTH AVE.
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
250.00 15-OCT-18 SARATOGIANS UNITED TO CONTINUE THE CHARTER ESSENTIAL TO SUSTAIN OUR SUCCESS (SUC 2018 11 Pre General A N/A N/A
SELLERS, RICHARD
73 5TH AVE
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
250.00 20-MAR-18 SARATOGIANS UNITED TO CONTINUE THE CHARTER ESSENTIAL TO SUSTAIN OUR SUCCESS (SUC 2018 July Periodic A N/A N/A
WEIHE, JANE
44 WHITE ST
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
500.00 22-MAR-18 SARATOGIANS UNITED TO CONTINUE THE CHARTER ESSENTIAL TO SUSTAIN OUR SUCCESS (SUC 2018 July Periodic A N/A N/A
WIEHE, MARTHA J
44 WHITE ST.
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
250.00 15-OCT-18 SARATOGIANS UNITED TO CONTINUE THE CHARTER ESSENTIAL TO SUSTAIN OUR SUCCESS (SUC 2018 11 Pre General A N/A N/A
Total Contributions: 2,039.00

Contributions to Its Time Saratoga

Contributor Amt Contr. Date Recipient Report Sched Office Dist
ALTAMARI, JEFFREY
10 VICTORIA LA
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
2,500.00 01-NOV-18 IT’S TIME SARATOGA! 2018 27 Post General A N/A N/A
BOARDMAN, JOHN
118 WHITE ST
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
50.00 15-OCT-18 IT’S TIME SARATOGA! 2018 11 Pre General A N/A N/A
BOYD, GORDON
99 STATE ST
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
500.00 17-OCT-18 IT’S TIME SARATOGA! 2018 11 Pre General A N/A N/A
BOYD, GORDON
99 STATE ST
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
500.00 06-NOV-18 IT’S TIME SARATOGA! 2018 27 Post General A N/A N/A
BULLOCK, ANN
86 LINCOLN AVE
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
100.00 02-NOV-18 IT’S TIME SARATOGA! 2018 27 Post General A N/A N/A
GLANSBERG, LINDA
30 CROMMELIN DR
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
25.00 29-OCT-18 IT’S TIME SARATOGA! 2018 27 Post General A N/A N/A
KIRWIN, JOHN
94 LINCOLN AVE
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
25.00 17-OCT-18 IT’S TIME SARATOGA! 2018 11 Pre General A N/A N/A
MASSIANO, MATHEW
20 OAKRIDGE BLVD
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
100.00 18-OCT-18 IT’S TIME SARATOGA! 2018 11 Pre General A N/A N/A
MATHIESEN, CHRISTIAN
154 WEST AVE
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
50.00 01-NOV-18 IT’S TIME SARATOGA! 2018 27 Post General A N/A N/A
MAXWELL, OTIS
158 LAKE AVE
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
25.00 29-OCT-18 IT’S TIME SARATOGA! 2018 27 Post General A N/A N/A
MCTYGUE, THOMAS
251 CR 68
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
200.00 06-NOV-18 IT’S TIME SARATOGA! 2018 27 Post General A N/A N/A
MCTYGUE, WILLIAM
15 YORK ST
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
200.00 06-NOV-18 IT’S TIME SARATOGA! 2018 27 Post General A N/A N/A
PINGEL, MARK
1 VICTORIA LN
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
50.00 23-OCT-18 IT’S TIME SARATOGA! 2018 27 Post General A N/A N/A
PROUGH, MARGARET
22 FERNDELL SPRING DR
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
50.00 06-NOV-18 IT’S TIME SARATOGA! 2018 27 Post General A N/A N/A
SCHWARZ-LAWTON, HELEN
209 NELSON AVE
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
50.00 16-OCT-18 IT’S TIME SARATOGA! 2018 11 Pre General A N/A N/A
SELL, DANIEL
1 LAURA LN
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
25.00 29-OCT-18 IT’S TIME SARATOGA! 2018 27 Post General A N/A N/A
TURNER, ROBERT
180 PHILA ST
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
250.00 06-NOV-18 IT’S TIME SARATOGA! 2018 27 Post General A N/A N/A
VAN METER, MARGIE
175 WASHINGTON ST
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
50.00 06-NOV-18 IT’S TIME SARATOGA! 2018 27 Post General A N/A N/A
WATKIN, RAYMOND
9 WOODLAND CT
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866
100.00 06-NOV-18 IT’S TIME SARATOGA! 2018 27 Post General A N/A N/A
Total Contributions: 4,850.00

Through the Looking Glass at the New York State Board of Elections

The NYS Board of Elections (NYSBOE) provides a query function that allows the public to ask who contributed to political action committees and how much they gave.  It also provides  reports on the expenditures made by these committees.  The reports above on contributions made to Its Time Saratoga and SUCCESS are the products of these queries.

When I ran the reports I found a strange thing.  The Its Time Saratoga reports showed they had roughly a $10,000.00 balance on hand.   This PAC raised almost $5,000.00 for the 2018 mailing. it made no sense that they would do this if they had $10,000.00 on hand.  I contacted Its Time Saratoga’s treasurer, Rick Fenton, to ask if he could explain this balance. Mr. Fenton responded that there was no such balance, and that all his periodic reports balanced to the penny.

I then called the NYSBOE and spoke to the IT people.  They told me that the reports had to match since the report on the contributions and expenditures came directly from their periodic reports submitted by the PACs.  I emailed Mr. Fenton advising him of this.  A few days later he wrote back informing me that he had spoken to someone at the NYSBOE and that they acknowledged that there was a problem with the general query.  So I called back the NYSBOE and they again insisted that the reports should match.  Again I wrote Mr. Fenton.  I gave him the name of the person I spoke with and his phone number and wrote that this IT person had insisted that the numbers would match.  Mr. Fenton in turn wrote back again dismissing my concern and reiterating what he had been told.

I considered writing a blog criticizing Mr. Fenton for his apparent indifference to NYSBOE’s assertions to me.  Instead, I decided to dig deeper.  I found another option that provided summaries for each of the reports the PACs submitted periodically on what they had received and spent.  I then entered the contributions and expenses from each report into a spreadsheet.  What I found was that the contributions matched the general query but that the expenses were significantly less.

I then called IT again.  I pointed out to them that these reports did not match.  They were unable to explain this and they connected me with another department that worked in this particular area.  The gentleman I spoke to acknowledged the problem.  He remembered talking to Mr. Fenton and acknowledged that he had been unaware of the problem prior to his conversation with Mr. Fenton.

Into The Data Weeds

As it turns out in-kind contributions and refunds are reported on different forms which are not picked up by the general query.  For instance, Tony Ianniello picked up the cost of a mailing for Its Time to the tune of $7,500.00.  This appeared in the main report as an in kind contribution from him but the expenditure did not because it was recorded on a different form.  Similarly, $1,500.00  was refunded to another contributor but was recorded on a different form and did not appear either as a negative number on the contributions report or as an expense in the expense report.

I made my living writing software and working with databases.  It should be simple to correct this design flaw.  The reality is that bugs are only fixed when someone with sufficient influence cares that they be corrected.  It is a sad testament to how seriously these reports are taken that this hasn’t happened.

Kafka at the NYSBOE

While I was trying to figure out why the numbers did not match I decided to inquire how one would pursue a violation in reporting by PACs.

Risa Sugarman is the Chief Enforcement Counsel for the Board of Elections and is in charge of conducting investigations. Her office has been at the center of controversy for years.  As I understand it, following the Governor’s disbanding of the Moreland Commission in 2014, he appointed Ms. Sugarman as the counsel heading this office.  She has pursued a number of high profile cases.  One involved donations to the Independent Democratic Caucus in the New York State Senate.  This was a group of right wing Democrats mainly from downstate who made a deal with the Republicans to keep them in the majority and in turn received significant perks and power (most of them lost their primary before last year’s election and are now gone).

Ms. Sugarman has been at bitter odds with the commissioners of the NYSBOE.  The commissioners, two Democrats and two Republicans, are appointed by the State Legislature.  In a bizarre environment, she is supposed to report to them but as she was appointed by the Governor, she regularly refuses to cooperate with them.  She routinely is required to go before them but she provides them basically nothing.  She has literally not even submitted reports to them on her unit’s activities.  Her appearances before them are often ugly events.

At any rate, I called her office.  On my first attempt I left a message explaining why I wanted to speak to her.  For the next several days I called only to get the same message.  To my surprise, late one afternoon a person answered.  I asked to speak to Ms. Sugarman.  The person put me on hold and when she returned said the counsel was in a meeting and that she was aware of my earlier call.  I was told to put my complaint in writing and was given an email address.  This all seemed very loose.  One has to wonder whether anyone would have called me had I not pursued my request.  I asked  the person to explain the process.  She reiterated that I should make my complaint via email.  She then told me that other than an acknowledgement I would hear nothing further.   I asked, “Does this mean that I will not be informed whether the counsel would be pursuing an investigation on my complaint?”  I was told that was correct.  I asked, “if the counsel pursued my complaint and found it was valid and took action you are telling me that I would not be advised?”  I was told that was correct.

As far as I was able to find out, this policy of secrecy is not in the law.  One wonders whether this is a sign of a lack of resources, a sloppy indifference to transparency, or an overzealous sense of autonomy?  Maybe it is all three.

 

 

 

Update on 53 Putnam Street Proposal

[JK: I received this from the Preservation Foundation.  I must say that my problem was not so much with the height as it was that the image of the rendering of the building which was quite ugly.]

Preservation Alert Update – 53 Putnam

As many of you know, the Foundation wrote a letter expressing its concerns about the height of the proposed new construction at 53 Putnam Street. The Design Review Commission agreed with the Foundation’s assessment and asked the applicant to reduce the height of the structure. The Foundation has met with representatives of the project and looks forward to viewing revised plans.  The Foundation will continue to provide updates as this project moves forward.

Trying To Untangle The Truth About  Insurance Coverage Of City Hall and Costs for Proposed Renovations

On social media and in a letter to the editor by former mayor, Ray Watkin, a narrative is being formed that the city failed to properly insure city hall  and that expensive, self indulgent, and unnecessary work is being planned. The problem is I can find no evidence to support these claims.

I have always admired Ray.  In my opinion he was probably the best mayor of Saratoga Springs in my lifetime.  He was an early visionary about the value of historic preservation and much of this city’s success should be credited to him.

Having praised my old friend, I found his letter deeply disturbing.  He accuses the current city council of having gone on a ”…a binge of impulse buying to kick off the holiday season: an $11 million renovation of city hall.”  Referring to the city’s plan to bond for work on the structure, he offers, “The borrowing is required because the building appears to have been under-insured, the extensive renovation was not planned, and no money set aside.  How many members of the Council, let alone taxpayers, have insured their homes for only one third of replacement value?”

On a social media site Bob Turner, past chair of the 2017 Charter Review Commission, asked “Why does the insurance cover only half?  Did the city not have full insurance?”

Pat Kane, who was vice chair of the same CRC, opined, “Shameful misuse of taxpayer dollars. Who looks at our insurance policy annually.  This REMODEL will cost 15 Million dollars and the city will never get to repair the most essential infrastructure services this city so desperately needs. Fire hydrants, water pipes, sewer lines, water treatment.  Live with in (sic) the budget,  Repair city hall…remodel..is extreme”

Laying Out The Numbers

This prompted me to contact John Franck, Commissioner of Accounts.  As Commissioner of Accounts he is responsible for the city’s insurance.  Here is what I learned from him:

What the insurance costs and covers:

  1. According to Commissioner Franck, City Hall was insured to the maximum allowed.  If Raymond, Dr. Turner, or Mr. Kane can refute this they should provide some sort of documentation.  There is something called “Insured Interest.”  As a rule, insurance policies can only cover the costs for replacing what currently exists (more on this later).
  2. The city chose a policy characterized as an “historical insurance policy.”  This means that special expenses associated with things like architectural moldings, particular woods, etc. are covered.  The decision to secure this kind of coverage was critical for reconstructing the beauty of our city hall.
  3. The coverage will also include the removal of asbestos (the exception to the replacement limitation).
  4. The city also had purchased a $1,000,000.00 rider under the category of “Loss of Business.”  This rider covered the many expenditures related to continuing the city’s operation after the fire made city hall unusable.  It paid for the rental of properties to continue the city’s business.  For example, the city rented space in the Van Raalte Building.  It also covered equipment and furniture.  This included things like carpeting and cubicles.  If you visit the city’s operation at the Rec Center you will be able to appreciate what went into creating an operational environment for the city’s employees.
  5. The current estimated amount the city will receive under its policy is $4,600,000.00.
  6. The key areas that sustained the most damage were the areas along Lake Avenue.  These include the Accounts Office, the City Council Chambers, the offices on the second floor where assistant chief Catone and other management from the police department were located, Commissioner Scirocco’s offices, and areas of the music hall.

Additional Costs Not Covered By Insurance

 So as noted above, insurance only covers replacement costs.  Any improvements the city makes in the building are not covered.  It should be noted that making many of the improvements the building needs has been stymied in the past by the need to displace staff while the work is done.  It makes simple logical economic sense to take advantage of city hall being totally empty and the walls taken down to the studs to make as many improvements as possible.

Here is what is planned:

  1. HVAC: The city had an antiquated system for heating and cooling.  It used window air conditioners for cooling.  The plan is to install an effective heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) system.  This will have great long term benefits.  It will be far more energy efficient than the current systems.  It also will assist in addressing air quality issues.  (If you have ever attended a city council meeting with a full house during the summer you will be aware of just how problematic the air conditioning in city hall can be.)

 

  1. The music hall on the city’s top floor has not been able to be fully utilized.  To begin with, due to the problems of sound and the fact that it is located directly above the courts, it has not been able to host events when the courts are in session.  In addition, because it is on the top floor and not air conditioned, it has not been able to host events during the summer.  The area becomes too hot to accommodate people comfortably.   This has meant that the city has lost events and money it could have earned.  The new HVAC system will allow this space to be used year round and will enhance the quality of life of our city.

 

  1. The city is extensively redesigning its wiring system.  This will have the advantage of not only more efficiently providing energy throughout the building but will allow it to design the wiring to minimize the cost of maintenance.  The city will benefit  from more reliable wiring and will reduce the cost of maintenance.

 

  1. The city will be installing an additional elevator that will provide greater security and safety for the public when moving prisoners up to the courtrooms.  The elevators will also be compliant with the requirements of the American Disabilities Act.

 

  1. The court system has been pressing the city for a number of years to expand the courtroom facilities to include a second courtroom along with greater administrative space.  This plan has gotten bogged down in the enormity of the problems that reorganizing city hall entails.  The city is now able to go forward.  One nice benefit is that the New York State Administration On Courts will pay for the interest of the bonding required for this part of the city’s rehab saving the city money.

 

  1. Similarly, the city had been struggling to find additional space for the police department.  Many will recall the substantial cost estimates that were under consideration when it was thought the city would need to secure a separate facility.  Through better planning along with the fact that the law library on the city hall’s third floor will be moved to Ballston Spa, the city will now have a solution.

 

Responsibly Prioritizing Rehab:

I mentioned to John Franck that there was suspicion that these renovations would be exploited by the Commissioners for personal purposes.  He told me that the only change in his offices was that the deputy’s office would be reduced slightly to deal with an enlargement of the bathroom.  The current bathroom is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The door needed to be enlarged to handle wheel chairs.

Costs: The latest estimate of the cost of the entire rehab is $10,000,000.00.  $4,600,000.00 will be covered by insurance while the balance of approximately $5,400,000.00 will be covered by bonding.

People can and should scrutinize all these plans.  What I find disturbing is not only the indifference of Ray, Mr. Kane, and Dr. Turner  to providing any concrete information to support their claims but the tone of contempt and anger that characterizes much of what they write.  I find John Franck’s explanations credible.  Maybe the cost will rise from the current projection of $10,000,000.00 to the $15,000,000.00 projected by Mr. Kane.  We would all benefit, though, if Mr. Kane would offer some explanation as to how he arrived at his number.  Criticism is important but it should be based on rigorous analysis and done civilly.

A Smooth Transition

 The readers of this blog should also consider how smoothly addressing the crisis of the fire and now the  rebuilding of city hall has proceeded.  One could have expected the process of relocating the entire city government and now re-configuring city hall could have resulted in all kinds of conflict between departments and dragged on for months.  What is clear beyond doubt is that the extreme attacks on the commission form of government characterizing it as virtually non functional have not been born out in this crisis.  Great credit for this must go first to Mayor Kelly who has headed this process but also to the other commissioners who have cooperated closely with her.