Memo To Peter Martin And Matt Veitch For July 7 City Council Meeting Re County Mental Health Department

As the last item on the agenda at each city council meeting, the city’s two supervisors report to the council.  With the exception of some brief and vacuous statements at the last meeting, they have had nothing to say in their reports about the problems at the county mental health department.  Below is an email I sent to both of them with copies to the city council asking them to address the improper hiring of Dr. Michael Prezioso.  Transparency is one of the most over used words in politics but hopefully they will be forced to actually say something substantial at Tuesday nights meeting.  I plan to post a link to the video of whatever they say (if they actually say anything).

Memo

To: Matt Veitch, Peter Martin

Subject: Questions Re The Mental Health Department Problems

Date: July 4, 2015

I respectfully request that when you both report  at Tuesday’s City Council meeting you address the questions below.  I am sure you both firmly share my feelings that our elected officials should be prepared to answer thoughtful questions:

  1. As chairman of the Board of Supervisors, can Michael Veitch explain the discrepancy between his and County Administrator Spenser Hellwig’s statements as to the hiring of  Michael Prezioso in the position of Director of Mental Health for Saratoga County and the public record.   Both Chairman  Veitch and Administrator Hellwig have made public statements that it was the Community Services Board that made the decision to hire Michael Prezioso and not the Board of Supervisors. The public record, however, shows that the Community Services Board was only asked to vet the applicants for the position of County Director of Mental Health and to forward names to the County Board of  Supervisor’s Personnel Committee.  The record further shows that the Personnel Committee then selected Michael Prezioso and their recommendation to hire him was voted on affirmatively at a county Board of Supervisors meeting on July 15, 2014.
  2. In light of the requirement under New York State Mental Hygiene law ( see below) that the Community Services Board and not the County Board of Supervisors  hire the  County Director of Mental Health, can either Supervisor Peter Martin or Supervisor Veitch explain why they are not advocating that the position of mental health director be vacated and a new hiring process initiated that adheres to the Mental Hygiene law?
  3. Has the County Attorney been asked to offer an opinion on this matter and if so, when can the public reasonably expect his opinion.

Here is the relevant excerpt from the statute (the board referenced here is the community services board:

NY Mental Hygiene Law §41.09

  1. 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….

The resolution passed by the 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.

This is from the Gazette Newspaper describing the role of the Community Services Board:

The Daily Gazette

Thursday, July 3, 2014

http://www.dailygazette.com/ See HTML Version of article

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.

CC: Members of the Saratoga Springs City Council

Up Close And Too Personal At The Department Of Mental Health (Version 2)

It is extremely unusual for so many professional people to so rapidly leave an organization as has happened at the Saratoga County Department of Mental Health.  To understand how this occurred I offer an account of the following events.

A Meeting From Hell

The staff at the County Department of Mental Health is represented by  CSEA, a union representing many of the state’s and counties’ employees.  In light of the problems at the Saratoga County Department of Mental Health , a meeting was held on May 22nd with a representative of the union.  When the employees gathered in the break room, the former Medical Director who had transferred out of the Department  joined them as an act of support.  Also attending the meeting was a clerk, closely associated with Dr. Prezioso, who ostentatiously held her telephone up in an apparent effort to record the meeting.  A number of people told her that they were not comfortable with her recording them.   This person then dramatically left the room and shortly returned with two other members of the administrative staff .  According to my sources, she then made a point of looking at each attendee and then wrote what was apparently their name on her pad.  She then challenged the past medical director about being at the meeting.  She became openly angry and loud, yelling at the past medical director, “You have no right to be at the clinic.” Pointing to another employee she  told them “You better watch out (name withheld), you’re on our radar” and pointing to another, “and you better watch out (name withheld) you’re skating on thin ice.”  When the doctor got up to leave, the clerk followed her out of the room, continuing to berate her in what my sources described as verbally abusive language and manner.  This clerk then had the doctor escorted out of the building.

The scene was so ugly that following the meeting, a number of employees filed a grievance under the category of “work place violence/harassment.”  The issue here was not that this person had physically endangered anyone but that she had created  an atmosphere of intimidation.

Anyone who has ever worked in an office can imagine how stressful the atmosphere became.  When employees are allowed to behave in a belligerent and aggressive manner they poison the environment for everyone.  In this case, knowing that management supports the person acting this way,  creates an even more difficult environment for people to work with each other.

The employees who had submitted the grievance received a memo from the county Director of Personnel, Margaret  C. McNamara, dated June 24th.  In a letter that could have been written for the television comedy “The Office” it said:

“After receiving your complaint, the county conducted a thorough (good to know it was thorough) investigation into the matter with the assistance of legal counsel.  The county has concluded its investigation and has responded to the concerns you identified.  Thus the county does not intend to take any further action at this time.”

There has been no sign that anything changed.  No one has any idea of what action if any the county took.

Divide In Hopes Of Conquest

Peggy Lounsbury serves as president  of  the “Citizens Committee for Mental Health.”  This is a volunteer organization that carries on a number of activities meant to address the pressing needs of the mentally ill.  In June she requested that she be allowed to address the County Board of Supervisors regarding concerns over the growing problems at the Mental Health Department. Among the issues she cited were:

  • Psychiatrists have left
  • Problem of client access to psychiatrists
  • Called on the supervisors to implement a plan to address these problems
  • Encouraged the Board of Supervisors to find out why the staff are leaving
  • In thirty years she had never heard of a level of unrest like this
  • Something is terribly wrong
  • No AED (Automatic External Defibulator)
  • Lack of sufficient safety drills
  • Many offices do not have locks

Following her comments the following staff from the  County Department of Mental Health spoke:

  1. Sue Abbott, account clerk
  2. Carol Lyte,  Director of Administration
  3. Carrie Abetamarco, typist
  4. Lori Snyder, senior typist
  5. Patricia Huber, clinical social worker

Their attendance at the same meeting that Lounsbury spoke at was quite a coincidence.  These people made what can only be described as inflammatory accusations.  They claimed the staff not Dr. Prezioso had created a hostile work environment.  They claimed staff members were circulating documents and gossip and using the clients as “pawns”.  They claimed staff members were telling  clients to read the newspapers about what was going on.  One theme was how the staff “used to have it easy.”  The women claimed they were being badgered.  They said that they had been dubbed “the gang of four.”

What a coincidence that these women show up at the same meeting at which Peggy Lounsbury had come to express concern about management problems at the department.  The Board of Supervisors requires that people who wish to address them sign up at least twenty-four hours prior to the meeting.

My sources tell me that there were no communications to the department staff in general about attending the meeting.  One wonders whether these people were on county time when they spoke.  It is also interesting that they came to speak but Dr. Prezioso did not.

As someone who ran a not-for-profit and reported to a board, I offer the following observations:

  1. If my agency were the subject of criticism at a County Board of Supervisors meeting I would have asked to address the board and respond to the issues.
  2. If I knew that members of my staff were going to go to a meeting like this and attack other staff I would have urged them not to.  I would not have told them not to go as they have a right to speak to their public officials.  I would have urged them not to, though, because I would be acutely concerned about the impact making such criticisms publically would have on the morale of the office.

If I were on the Community Services Board, which is supposed to oversee the county Department of Mental Health, I would want to know whether Dr. Prezioso had played any part in their attending the meeting and whether he took any action to discourage their public criticism of their fellow staff members.

A Discouraging Conversation With Dr. Frank Archangelo, Chairman of the Saratoga County Community Services Board

Dr. Frank Archangelo is a local psychologist with a specialty in working with children and adolescence. I have spoken to a number of people in the field and he is well respected in his work.

I spoke to Dr. Archangelo, the head of the Community Services Board on Wednesday afternoon over the telephone.  The Community Services Board as you recall (see earlier posts) is the body designated by the NY Mental Hygiene law to have the power to hire and fire the director of the County Mental Health Department, a power they did not exercise in the case of the employment of Michael Prezioso. I raised with Dr. Archangelo the issue of the flawed process by which Dr. Prezioso was selected as Mental Health Director.  He did not challenge my understanding that it was the County Board of Supervisors not CSB which had made the final decision to hire Prezioso.  When I pointed out to him that it was the CSB’s responsibility to hire the director and that the county had usurped that duty, he said that the county attorney was doing a legal analysis.  When I suggested that the county attorney might have a conflict of interest in the matter, he asked what conflict that would be.  I said that since the attorney was employed to represent the county, his first concern would be how to protect the county in light of the apparent violation of the law.  Archangelo dismissed my concern.  I then asked him if he could explain how Spenser Hellwig and Matt Veitch could assert that the CSB had chosen Prezioso when he knew that this was not the case.  He became quite defensive, told me that was “an apparent contradiction”, and parried my question by asking why I was asking it.

I then asked him if he had any sense of when the county attorney might deliver his opinion and he said he had no idea and seemed unconcerned about the urgency of the issue.

I then asked him if he saw the fact that all three psychiatrists and several key staff had either left or were leaving shortly as an indication of serious internal problems.  He said what I was raising was a personnel matter and none of his concern.  I then noted that I had been the executive director of a not-for-profit agency and reported to a board.  I noted that in their capacity of governing the organization, the question of why staff was leaving was very much in the board’s purview.  At this point I was stunned when he told me that he and the CSB did not bare that responsibility.  I tried to point out to him that the statute under which his board was formed made it quite clear that they did.  I noted that it made no sense for the board to be the sole body to hire and fire the director and yet have no authority over the ongoing monitoring of the body.  At that point he dismissed me and hung up.

What truly shocked me was not simply his denial of his responsibilities as chair and of the board’s duty to provide rigorous oversight.  It was his open indifference to even consider that the law might actually charge him and the board with the responsibility for the clinic.

If the reader would like to see examples of how such boards are supposed to carry out their duties, check the following
websites for community service boards’ in other locations:

http://www.warrencountyny.gov/mhcs/

http://greenegovernment.com/departments/mental-health/about-us/greene-county-committees/

http://www.co.st-lawrence.ny.us/Departments/CommunityServices/CSBoardSubcommittees

http://www.clintoncountygov.com/departments/MHAS/MHAdministration.html

I expect that Dr. Archangelo had no idea when he became chairman that he would find himself in this situation.  One can only hope that he will find the courage to do the right thing.

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.