The Inevitable Crash Of The City Democratic Committee

It seems that the Saratoga Springs  Democratic Committee is doomed to eternal cycles of conflict and disintegration.

The last cycle involved a bitter battle between Valerie Keehn and Tom McTygue (This is a link to an amusing history of the debacle. It includes Gordon Boyd’s involvement). Ms. Keehn, a Democrat who took office as Mayor of Saratoga  Springs in 2006, appeared to have one goal in mind which was to rid the City Council of Public Works Commissioner Tom McTygue (Bill McTygue’s brother) who for many years had been the only Democrat on the City Council. She publicly endorsed Skip Scirocco, McTygue’s Republican opponent  in the 2007 city election. Scirocco won that election and still serves today as Public Works Commissioner.

A bizarre coda to her mayoralty came on election night 2007 when both she and McTygue were defeated. She showed up at the Holiday Inn where the Republicans were having their gathering. On her entrance she received a standing ovation from the Republicans. She actually gave a speech to applause offering that losing the election was worth it because she credited herself with McTygue’s defeat, something the Republicans had tried unsuccessfully to do for some 30 years.

The dystopia did not end with that election.  Democratic Committee meetings were studies in madness marked by yelling and recriminations between the two factions. Eventually the Keehn vs McTygue camps burned themselves out.

Unfortunately during the last few years the level of madness has been slowly but inevitably growing yet again in spite of the efforts of Charlie Brown to hold the party together. Former Mayor Joanne Yepsen, who has always been close with the McTygues, has a faction that overlaps with the current charter change zealots. By zealots I do not mean people who simply support the city manager form of government. I mean people who view opponents of the city manager form with suspicion and hostility. High on their list of “enemies” is Mayor Kelly. Mayor Kelly’s decision to impanel a charter commission last year was considered a betrayal by the city manager faction and those of us who follow politics closely know that Ms. Yepsen is no fan of Mayor Kelly in spite of originally pushing her candidacy for mayor (these alliances have no shelf life).

All of this division was exposed at the February 23 Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee endorsement meeting this year. As some may recall the event was an eight hour ordeal. Bill McTygue (who was not even a member of the committee) had circulated a white paper to the “insurgents” titled “Help Us Take A Stand…”  (These are the same people who now control the committee following the mass resignations.) His paper urged his group to block endorsements for Michele Madigan, Meg Kelly, and John Franck. The paper began “Currently there exists a major split on the Democratic Committee when it comes to supporting Madigan, Kelly, and Franck for re-election.”

Bob Turner briefly put himself forward as a candidate to challenge Meg Kelly  for mayor but dropped out before the committee did their endorsement interviews. The “insurgents” tried to block John Franck’s endorsement by having enough members leave the meeting room to deny the meeting a  quorum, but they were unable to successfully orchestrate this. Then the “insurgents” put forth Patty Morrison to challenge Michele Madigan for Commissioner of Finance, but she failed to get enough votes to win the committee’s endorsement.

When their attempt to block the endorsements of the incumbents failed,  the “insurgents” became even more bitter and aggressive  and circulated petitions that allowed Morrison to challenge Madigan in the bitterly fought June primary.

It is important to view this conflict as psychological in nature rather than take seriously any policy differences. It is hard to overstate the animosity these people feel toward the Democratic incumbents Kelly, Franck, and Madigan and Republican Public Works Commissioner Skip Scirocco. On some level the division is over the proposal to change the city government to a city manager form, but it simply makes no sense that the form of the city’s government should engender this level of animosity. My assessment is that one of the reasons the “insurgents” are pressing for the city manager form of government is as a vehicle for getting rid of the incumbents on the City Council.

Curiously charter change played a role also in the 2007 split amongst the Democrats with Keehn pushing for a change and McTygue and his supporters on the Democratic Committee opposing the change. At the time there was some suspicion that Keehn saw charter change as a way of getting rid of McTygue if he couldn’t be defeated at the polls. Now after two failed attempts by Billy McTygue to defeat Skip Scirocco for Commissioner of Public Works, the McTygues have  become enthusiastic supporters of the charter changes they once opposed.

Courtney DeLeonardis, who has chaired the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee for the last couple of years, has  been a regular target for the “insurgents”.  Ms. DeLeonardis is an elementary school teacher. She is just a lovely and kind and thoughtful person. Her modest and principled public statement when she recently resigned as chair of the Committee was an expression of her generous spirit. During her term Ms. DeLeonardis routinely received angry emails and texts from this faction either making demands on her or charging her with some sort of abuse. She had to try to maintain order and civility at meetings that hovered on the edge of disorder.

Patty Morrison, who is a very good friend of Bill McTygue, was a significant player in all of this.

It is regrettable that Ms. Morrison was able to avoid appearing at any event where the public could critically assess her prior to the primary.

The fact is, though,  that Ms. Morrison won the Democratic primary even though the Democratic Committee and all the Democrats sitting on the City Council had endorsed the incumbent, Michele Madigan.

So with Ms. Morrison’s victory the current crisis of the Democratic Committee and party came to a head. It was one thing to endure the on-going conflict if in doing so people like Ms. DeLeonardis felt good about the Democratic candidates who were running. Ms. DeLeonardis and her allies now had to face the problem, though, of having to support Ms. Morrison. The Commissioner of Finance is a critically important position. This commissioner must oversee the city’s finances and must craft a budget to support the city’s on-going needs while balancing this with a tax rate that is not a burden to the city’s residents . Ms. DeLeonardis et al were all too aware that not only did Ms. Morrison lack the skills to  accomplish this task but they also feared she might bring to the council table the belligerence and animosity they had seen her demonstrate as a member of the Committee.

The people who resigned from the Democratic Committee hoped that such a radical action would alert the public to how gravely concerned they were about the potential harm Ms. Morrison might do to the city’s finances and to the ability of the Council to operate in a civil manner. It remains to be seen whether their gesture will have its hoped for impact.

Charter Organizers Evade Responsibility For Petitioning Error

On August 3 Common Sense, Saratoga posted a notice that their proposal to change the Saratoga Springs city government to a city manager form would not appear on this year’s ballot. Rather than graciously admit that they had not researched the deadlines properly they claimed that new state laws made it impossible for them to fulfill the requirements to get their charter change proposal on the ballot in time. This is from their statement:

While the group’s initial intention was to place the proposition on the November 2019 ballot, changes in the Election Law enacted by the legislature this year made it impossible to provide enough time for all the legal milestones and intervals to occur within the time available.

But changes to the NY State Election law were made in January allowing them plenty of time to gather petition signatures and follow all the necessary procedures. Instead Bob Turner announced in the July 24th edition of the Gazette, that they needed to collect 2,000 signatures by August 1.This did allow enough time to complete the steps necessary to get their proposition on the ballot.

The simple fact is that they failed to properly research the deadlines and to allow sufficient time for the process before they initiated their petition drive.  The root of their problem was their failure to be rigorous. Not taking responsibility for their error only serves to further damage their credibly.

 

Advocates For Charter Miss Deadline- Referendum Delayed A Year

I am still unclear about the details but apparently the organizers of the city manager charter petition drive (the people involved refuse to disclose who the organizers are but I understand that Gordon Boyd, Pat Kane, Bob Turner, and Ann Bullock are among the leadership), misunderstood the law and will have to wait until the next general election to get their proposal on the ballot.

This year New York  made a number of changes in state election law.  Among the changes was the deadline for getting a proposition on the ballot in order to address the problem of securing ballots for military and oversees voters. The deadline was moved up from thirty-six days to three months before the general election changing  the date from approximately October 1 to August 5.

As I understand it, in addition to getting the signatures in to the city (they needed about 1,200 valid signatures), the Accounts Office was required to go through the petitions to check the names and then the City Council had to take some sort of action. The charter organizers just did not allow enough time to complete  all of these requirements by the new deadline.

One thing helpful to the organizers is that apparently the signatures gathered so far will still be good when they are submitted for the next election.

New York State election law is very complicated. I cannot help but make the snarky observation that the advocates should have had the good sense to work closely with an attorney who specialized in this kind of law to avoid an error like this.

It is also worth noting that the organizers’ website Common Sense, Saratoga has not acknowledged the missed deadline.  This disinterest in transparency is an ongoing theme.

Another Wave Of Resignations from the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee

 I received this release from the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee. Charlie Brown and Jane Weihe had both chaired the city committee in the past:

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE / MEDIA ADVISORY

CONTACT:Kathryn Gorman

Saratoga Dems: City finances in jeopardy if Morrison elected

Saratoga Springs, NY, August 1, 2019 – More members of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee resigned today, following the resignations on July 17, 2019 of five members who served on the SSDC Executive Committee. Ten additional people announced they are leaving, including: Jennifer Blanchard, Charles Brown, Frank Capone, Cynthia Corbett, Michele Feinstein, Nancy Goldberg, Kathryn Gorman, Janet Kuczynski, Michael Sharp and Jane Weihe.

Those departing the committee today made the following statement:

 As long-serving members of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee, we have come to a point where we must choose the welfare of our City over party. We are resigning from the committee because we are unable to support the winner of the Democratic primary for Finance Commissioner, Patty Morrison. We intendfor this serious step to alert citizens of Saratoga Springs to our grave concern about the risk she poses to the sound management of the City’s finances, most notably the Budget. Based on our interactions with Ms. Morrison and the conduct of her campaign, we believe she is both unqualified and ill-suited for this office. Although we deeply regret having to leave the committee, this will free us to work for the candidates we are confident will best serve our City.

Media advisory: A press conference will be held:

1:00 p.m. today, August 1, 2019

High Rock Park, 112 High Rock Ave.

Saratoga Springs, NY

###

 

 

City Attorney Discusses SiFi Contract And Addresses Critics’ Accusations

In order to better understand the SiFi contract as a whole, I wrote to Vince DeLeonardis, the City Attorney asking that he address the points raised by Common Sense, Saratoga. I admire Vince enormously for the clarity of his thought and writing. I think if you take the time to read his email to me, you will agree.

John,
I have read the articles posted on the site referenced in your e-mail.
I find it interesting that the authors argue that the contract will create a “government-sponsored decades-long monopoly with SiFi Networks to lay a fiber optic network throughout the City” while, at the same time, questioning why the City would allow for “a new fiber optic transmission backbone that parallels already existing fiber optic installations.”
Under the most basic definition, a “monopoly” is understood to mean the exclusive control of supply of a good or service.  Thus, allowing for a fiber optic system which, as they claim, “parallels” an already existing system, is not creating a “monopoly” but is, instead, the very opposite.  The arguments proffered clearly lack merit and, ironically, “common sense”.
The contract with SiFi simply allows for the installation of a fiber optic network system which will provide residents with an opportunity to receive multi gigabit technology in internet, voice, data and video services as an option, or alternative, to the services currently available to them.  Contrary to the unfounded assertions contained within the article, residents are not required to “financially back” SiFi who, pursuant to the contract, “shall be solely responsible for the cost to design, construct and install the system”.  Nor will the contract create, as they absurdly claim, a “fiscal noose around the necks of citizens, forcing them to pay more for less”.  To be sure, allowing for increased opportunities fosters market competition, which generally results in a more favorable outcome for consumers as it incentivises companies to increase quality and/or decrease prices.
As with all contracts, there are risks.  Here, those risks are overwhelmingly borne by SiFi, who will be incurring significant expense to design, construct and install the system.  Their investment will only realize a return if the system is capable of supporting delivery of the service in a manner and at a price point that will generate customers or “subscribers”.  If, however, SiFi “doesn’t deliver a working system”, as is apparently the worry of the aforementioned authors, then there will be no subscribers and SiFi’s investment will be lost.  Such an event, although unlikely, would indeed be unfortunate as the residents would not have the additional alternative to the services currently available to them that the contract intended to provide.  It would not, to be clear, result in any liability for Saratoga Springs, let alone the “enormous liability” that they misguidedly assume.
In the event of a breach or default, the rights and remedies of each party are outlined in Section 7 of the contract and, ultimately, depends upon the nature of the breach and when such breach may occur.  If the breach occurs in the manner outlined in 7.1.2(i) or (ii) and is not cured during the applicable cure period, the City may terminate the contract.  If the breach occurs in the manner outlined in 7.1.2(iii) or (iv), and likewise not timely cured, the City may terminate the contract and shall have the option to either purchase the fiber optic network which has been installed at the point of such breach or allow SiFi to continue operations relative only to same.  The City retains full authority over any extensions or further installation of the network beyond that point.
During the term of the contract, SiFi is obligated to install the system “in order to make the delivery of service over the system available to all premises within the boundary” (emphasis added).  Exceptions are only if there is a lack of legal right, title, interest or authority to access property or there would be an incremental material cost to access property or install the system that is at least 20% greater than the average cost associated with providing the service to all other premises within the boundary.  SiFi shall have access to the public right of way to install the network, but shall be fully responsible for returning same to the condition it was in prior to construction, including “resurfacing roadways and curbing, regrading and reseeding grass areas, and restoring sidewalks and other surfaces to their original condition.”  SiFi shall have right, title and ownership of the system during the term of the contract and, following termination or expiration, SiFi will have the opportunity to remove the system or relinquish title to the City, which can then possess, license, sell or otherwise transfer rights to the system.
Ultimately, the contract with SiFi will provide for an opportunity for the public to enjoy alternatives.  There is no obligation or requirement imposed upon any resident to become a subscriber to the service. Nor are there costs, risks or liability in the manner so sensationally described in the referenced articles.
I hope I have sufficiently addressed your questions.  However, should you require anything further, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Best regards,

Vince

Vincent J. DeLeonardis
City Attorney
Saratoga Springs City Attorney’s Office
474 Broadway – Room 7
Saratoga Springs, New York 12866
(518) 587-3550 ext. 2414

More Disinformation From The White Walkers: The City Fiber Optic Network – A Competitor For Spectrum

The Saratoga Springs City Council has entered into a contract with SiFi Networks to provide Fiber Optic connections to the entire city. The issues are complicated, and given the scope of the project there are legitimate issues that people can argue about. A lot of work went into drafting the contract and given the potential benefits along with the risks, a thoughtful review is very much in order.

In this post I will be looking at those issues but as usually happens these days the White Walkers have launched a social media campaign that cynically misrepresents the agreement. It shrilly proclaims the agreement as a disaster of extreme proportion.

The vehicle for the attack is a pair of articles published on the website, “Common Sense, Saratoga (CSS)”.

The tone should by now be familiar to the readers of this blog. They write:

“More on the Worst Contract in City History”

[JK: Just as “Some things are too good to be true”…somethings are too bad to be true.]

It has the bravura tone so commonly invoked by our President where things are either the best or worst in history.

The articles make a stunning accusation. According to the CSS authors, if SiFi is unable to fulfill its responsibilities in the agreement, the only option the city would have to extricate itself from the contract would be to pay SiFi all the costs SiFi has incurred plus ten percent.

Here is how they put it:

“If the City wants to terminate the contract, even if the contractor doesn’t deliver, they can only do so only (sic) by paying all investments, expenses, plus 10%.”

This is simply untrue. Below is the language from the contract along with an analysis a friend who is a lawyer wrote for me. The bottom line is that if SiFi fails to comply with certain benchmarks and standards the city can exercise its right to terminate the contract in one of two ways. It can:

1. Purchase whatever SiFi has built to that point for the cost of what SiFi has done plus ten percent.

Or

2. Walk away from the agreement. SiFi may continue to operate using however much of the network it has built but it no longer has a right expand its network using the city’s right of way.

So, to be clear, the city is not obligated to buy the network.

CSS also alleges that the contract does not contain language that would require SiFi to serve the entire city. This is also untrue.

I find it interminably frustrating that these people continually exploit social media taking advantage of people by spreading this kind of disinformation.

Readers may recall that I asked the founders of CSS (Gordon Boyd, Ann Bullock, and Bob Turner) who wrote these articles and, if they had the assistance of an attorney, who that attorney was. I have still not had an answer.

Their piece does raise legitimate concerns about the length of the contract (30 years with an option for another 30) and questions about how future developments in technology might affect the value of the network.

The contract also provides unusually generous terms for allowing delays in the progress of the project.

Why Such Generous Terms

The advantage of the proposed network would be its speed. Fiber optics sends data in the form of light through cables. This is much faster than the older technology. Verizon has been constructing networks called Fios using this technology.

SiFi would lay the fiber optic cable and construct electronic stations to facilitate the movement of data. They would not provide the actual web services (ISP) to the residences and businesses. SiFi would provide interested companies use of their network to provide these services for a fee. These companies would in turn pass the costs on to their customers.

Spectrum would continue to offer its services to the city but now they would have competition.

This model has already been implemented in urban environments like New York City. Up to now the cost of providing such services in less dense environments like Saratoga Springs was not financially viable.

Advances in the technology of laying cable and in downsizing the electronic infrastructure to support the cables has changed the playing field.

Still this technology has never been used in the U.S. to construct a fiber optic network on a smaller scale like Saratoga Springs. In addition to Saratoga Springs, SiFi has agreements with Salem, Massachusetts; Fullerton, California; and East Hartford, Connecticut.

One of the central appeals is that most of the risk is with SiFi. SiFi is carrying the entire cost of constructing the network. The cost to the city for this endeavor is minimal.

As they say, you get what you pay for. As the city is not paying for the building of the network, their leverage over the project was minimal. As delays and problems with large networks are inevitable, SiFi negotiated an agreement that provided them with considerable protection for delays. SiFi also insisted on a very long contract to insure they would get a generous payback on their investment.

The protection to the city is based on the logic that SiFi must successfully build a product that has the features that consumers want and that is priced to be competitive not only against Spectrum which is their competitor today, but to whatever other technologies are developed in the future. In addition, if they want to expand their business to other communities in the future, they need customers like Saratoga Springs to be happy.

If the White Walkers (CSS) want to effectively challenge this contract, they need to avoid baseless accusations and, more importantly, they need to address the reasoning why SiFi needs to make the project a success.

This is a link to the articles on the CSS website. The articles have a link to the SiFi contract.



This is an the analysis by the attorney as regards to terms available to the city should it terminate its contract with SiFi.

The rights and remedies of each party in the event of a breach or default under the Agreement are outlined in Section 7 of the Agreement, and ultimately depend upon the nature of the breach or default and when that breach or default occurs.

Subsection 7.1.2 (i) of the Agreement provides that when a breach or default by SiFi Networks (“SiFi”) is other than one occurring in the manner described in:

(a) Subsection 7.1.2(ii) (involving a failure to commence “Construction” on or before the “Construction Commencement Deadline” or with the applicable cure period);

(b) Subsection 7.1.2(iii) (involving a failure to achieve “Substantial Completion” of the “System” by the “Construction Completion Deadline” or within the applicable cure period); or in

(c) Subsection 7.1.2 (iv) (involving a situation in which at any time after “Substantial Completion” of the fiber optic system is achieved, no internet, voice, date, or video service of any kind is capable of being provided over the system for a period in excess of 120 consecutive days, and neither SiFi nor its lender(s) have subsequently restored such capability within the applicable cure period); 

then if SiFi fails to cure any actual noncompliance or default as provided in Subsection 7.1.1 of the Agreement, the City may (A) seek specific performance of any of the provisions of the Agreement which lends itself to such a remedy as an alternative to money damages, or (B) seek money damages from SiFi, or (C) terminate the Agreement and seek any and all rights and remedies available to the City at law or in equity.

Subsection 7.1.2 (ii) of the Agreement provides that if SiFifails to commence “Construction” on or before the “Construction Commencement Date” in accordance with the preceding provisions of Section 7.1 of the Agreement, and neither SiFi nor its lender(s) have subsequently commenced “Construction” of the subject “System” within the applicable cure period, the City may “terminate [the] Agreement by written notice to [SiFi] and its lender(s) and neither party shall have any liability or obligation under [the] Agreement.”

Subsection 7.1.2 (iii) of the Agreement provides that if SiFifails to achieve “Substantial Completion” of the “System” by the “Construction Completion Deadline” in accordance with the preceding provisions of Section 7.1 of the Agreement, and neither SiFi nor its lender(s) have subsequently achieved “Substantial Completion” of the “System” within the applicable cure period, the City may “terminate [the] Agreement by written notice to [SiFi] and its lender(s).”  

Subsection 7.1.2 (iii) of the Agreement further provides that in the event of termination pursuant to that subsection, the City shall within 60 days of the effective date of that termination elect to either (A) purchase the “System” by paying to SiFi by wire transfer in immediately available funds within 120 days of the effective date of the termination a sum equal  to SiFi’s costs of designing, financing and constructing the “System” for use in the City, plus 10% of such costs, upon which payment “neither party would have any liability or obligation under the Agreement,” or (B) permit SiFi to “continue all network operations necessary to maximize use of the existing FON [fiber optic network] in accordance with the Agreement.”  (Emphasis added).  Subsection 7.1.2 (iii) additionally provides that if the City elects alternative (B), the City “shall however have authority over all extensions of the FON in the Public Way.” (Emphasis added).

Similarly, Subsection 7.1.2 (iv) of the Agreement states that if at any time after “Substantial Completion” of the subject fiber optic system is achieved, no internet, voice, data, or video service of any kind is capable of being provided over the system for a period in excess of 120 consecutive days, and neither SiFinor its lender(s) have subsequently restored such capability within the applicable cure period, the City may terminate theAgreement by written notice to SiFi and its lender(s) and then within 60 days of the effective date of that termination elect to either (A) purchase the “System” on the same terms and conditions specified in Subsection 7.1.2 (iii) above, or (B) permit SiFi to “continue all network operations necessary to maximize use of the existing FON in accordance with [the] Agreement.”  (Emphasis added).  And as in Subsection 7.1.2 (iii) above, Subsection 7.1.2 (iv) provides that if the City elects alternative (B) to a post-termination purchase of the “System,” the City  “shall however have authority over all extensions of the FON in the Public Way.” (Emphasis added).