Saratoga County Mental Health: The Smoking Gun Letter

I have managed to get hold of a letter from Dr. Frank Archangelo, chair of the Community Services Board, to Spenser Hellwig, Saratoga County Administrator.  It eliminates any ambiguity about what happened.  It confirms that, contrary to statements by Hellwig and Supervisor Matt Veitch, the Community Services Board did not hire Dr. Prezioso.  It also referenced that the candidates that the CSB sent to the county personnel committee were prioritized.  The only thing missing is the fact that Dr. Prezioso was the fourth choice out of the four that were recommended.

It also exposes the fact that the Community Services Board is not providing governance as required by the statute.

Finally, Dr. Archangelo’s letter implies that he sees no urgency in resolving this issue and, contrary to the statue, he leaves it in the hands of the county as to what role in the future the Community Services Board should have.

Letter From Archangelo To Hellwig

Images of the Proposed City Center Parking Structure

I plan to write extensively about both the solar ordinance and the parking structure proposed by the City Center.  I have received helpful materials from Harry Moran, Geof Bourneman, and Mark Baker.

In the meantime, Mark Baker has been kind enough to send me some images of what the structure will look like.  The amazing thing is that I did not have to FOIL for them.  That is a lame attempt at humor.  It seems that asking for the most basic information these days entails a FOIL request and a month’s wait.  Any way, these are the most up to date images of what the structure would look like if it were approved.

Maple Ave View Across Street - 112614 Picture1 (2)#5 Photoshopped

Saratoga County Fails To Comply With FOIL Law

On June 8, 2015 I emailed the clerk of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors requesting all documents associated with the hiring of Dr. Michael Prezioso as director of the county mental health department.  In addition I requested documents relating to the mission and operation of the Community Services Board including their bylaws and minutes of their meetings.  On June 12, I received an email from the clerk indicating they would respond to my request the week of July 6.  They are allowed twenty business days.  Since the time allowed by law had elapsed, I contacted the clerk today.  She had no idea what was going on and transferred me to Steven Dorsey, the county attorney.  He said he was unaware of a problem but after checking his records, he said he would review the situation and have the clerk contact me.

FOIL says that if an institution fails to respond by the required dates that they have in effect denied the request and the committee advise that a follow up letter to the FOIL appeals officer be sent.  The county web site does not identify who is the appeals officer.  I therefore sent an email to the clerk initiating the appeal and asking that she forward my appeal to the appropriate person.

The County now has ten days to respond to my appeal.  In the event that they should deny my appeal, they are required to notify me and to forward to the New York State Committee on Open Government my appeal and their response.

Given that Peter Martin and Matt Veitch have refused to answer my questions, it will be interesting to see how the county responds.

Peter Martin and Matt Veitch: A Stunning Contempt For Transparency And Openness:

As documented on this blog, the county has done its best to discourage any public acknowledgement or discussion of the issues surrounding the department of mental health’s many problems.  The July 5th post of this blog contained a letter to Peter Martin and Matt Veitch asking for them to address the issue in their regular report to the city council yesterday, July 7.  When I discovered that neither Martin nor Veitch had included the issue in their agenda for the meeting, I texted Peter Martin inquiring as to why it was not included.  He never responded to my text.

In order to avoid any confusion, I went to the city council meeting and, with both men present, during the public comment period, asked that in their report they address the issue.  The following is a copy of my remarks:

I sent a memo to Matt Veitch and Peter Martin in which I documented that the county government violated the New York State Mental Hygiene law when they, rather than the Community Services Board hired Dr. Michael Prezioso as director of the Department of Mental Health.  I asked them in their report to the City Council tonight to address this issue.

I know that Mayor Yepsen’s campaign focused on the issue of transparency.  It seems eminently reasonable for our supervisors to address the apparent discrepancy between the public record and not only the state law but statements made by the county administrator and our own supervisor, Matt Veitch.  I am hoping that our supervisors will reconsider and add this question to their reports.  If they do not I would be grateful if someone from this council would assist me and this community by respectfully requesting that they address the issue.

Thank  you

Neither supervisor addressed the issue.  Peter Martin gave an upbeat report about the coming county fair.

Solar Energy: Not So Fast, Not So Easy

The American Planning Association has a great paper titled “Balancing Solar Energy Use with Potential Competing Interests.” Article I am always amused and humbled by issues that at first seem so simple that turn out to be very complex.

Saratoga Springs is currently considering revising its solar ordinance.  There will be a hearing tonight at 6:50 preceding the council meeting on the proposed ordinance.  Currently there is a restriction from “shading” an existing solar panel.  The existing ordinance is Supplemental Regulation 6.6.8:

Except as otherwise provided by this Chapter, no property owner may erect a structure or allow a tree or other flora to cast a shadow upon a solar collector greater than the shadow cast by a hypothetical wall six feet high located along the property line between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time from September 21 to March 21.

The motivation for changing the ordinance was precipitated by the controversy that erupted between The Mouzon House (a local restaurant) and the city center.  The City Center is trying to build a parking garage.  The Mouzon House opposes the garage which would tower over their restaurant.  As it turns out, the Mouzon House has solar panels on its roof and the proposed garage with cast a shadow over its solar panels during certain hours during the winter that would violate the existing ordinance.

This conflict has exposed a basic planning problem with particularly important implications for the downtown.  Once a building has solar panels, it severely restricts what can be built on adjoining properties.  As one example, if the Catina Restaurant’s building had had solar panels, the building where the Northshire Bookstore is located could not have been built.

The proposed ordinance would exempt the core downtown from the existing ordinance.

Unfortunately, as the article referenced above points out, the problem is far broader and more complex.  There are a variety of goals that potentially are in conflict.  The article focuses on the potential conflict between historic preservation buildings and trees on the one hand, and solar on the other.

Just a few items to consider:

  1. To what extent do solar panels undermine the character of an historic building?
  2. How do we handle the problem of a tree in one yard growing to the point that it effects the solar panel in an adjoining yard?

Coming up with ordinances and the planning strategies that are their partners to pursue solar, trees, and historic buildings is no easy task.

It is made all the more difficult when a bitter conflict like the one between the Mouzon House and the City Center produces angry, partisan attacks.

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.