More Problems For The Hicks Campaign

In an article published in the October 31 edition of the Gazette, Kendall Hicks denied receiving letters from prison from a woman convicted of child pornography involving her daughter. Mr. Hicks told the reporter that he was on active duty and that the woman he was then living with failed to forward the letters to him.

The problem is that he was stationed locally not oversees at that time. In fact the envelopes show that neither letter was sent to his home address where his then partner was living. Letters were sent to his post office box in Saratoga Springs and to an address in Johnstown. Mr. Hicks owns apartments in Johnstown where presumably the correspondence was sent.

Commissioner Madigan: An Unfortunate Turn of Events

Steve Williams has written an excellent article on the nasty nature of this year’s campaigns in Saratoga Springs. 

The Gazette article in today’s (October 31) edition, which I link to here, reports that Scott Solomon, the owner of Siro’s, has sent a complaint to the state Board of Elections regarding Commissioner Michele Madigan.  According to the Gazette, in his claim he asserts that Commissioner Madigan “bullied constituents” and was guilty of a “clear abuse of power.”

Mr. Solomon had sought the Commissioner’s support in opening his restaurant.  Apparently he specifically asked her for and received assistance in his application for a liquor license. 

In early October, upon learning that Mr. Solomon was planning a fundraiser for Ms. Madigan’s opponent, Patty Morrison, she wrote two emails to him.  In one of them, the Gazette quotes her as having written:

“You can get in line like everyone else, I’m sorry I considered you a friend. I hear you have a lot of code violations by the way. Enjoy.”

When questioned by the Gazette regarding her emails she told Steve Williams that she had apologized to Mr. Solomon and she believed that he had accepted her apologies.  She told Williams:

“I got angry. I am human and I lashed out.  I called him and apologized.”

Most us would have found Mr. Solomon’s behavior in this affair a source of anger.  Commissioner Madigan had gone out of her way to assist him and it would only be natural to experience his actions as a kind of betrayal. 

Having said that, it is no excuse for Commissioner Madigan’s response.  Being in public office requires elected officials to display self control.  In this case Commissioner Madigan’s email was egregious.  In spite of the fact that her office has no control over the enforcement of building codes, her email could be interpreted as a threat.

There is simply no way to excuse this behavior.  The problem is that in this election we are reduced to choosing between two candidates for an office which is at the center of our city’s operation. 

As reported on in previous posts Ms. Morrison’s attitude toward the administrative duties of the Finance Office is more than disturbing.  She appears utterly cavalier about how that office works.  At one point in her debate with Commissioner Madigan she said she would maintain a 4% fund balance.  Commissioner Madigan pointed out to her that this number was grossly inadequate and would prompt an audit exception from the state Comptroller.

It was apparent that Ms. Morrison is unconcerned about the challenges of administering the Finance Office and assumes mistakenly that others will handle the duties of running that office.

In addition the literature that Ms. Morrison has been distributing  in this campaign continues to make false and misleading statements about her qualifications, actions by Commissioner Madigan, and various issues facing the city. One of her most recent pieces of literature repeats the false narrative that the city has been remiss in collecting taxes on properties.  This accusation has been thoroughly debunked.  This is emblematic of either her lack of interest in the complexity of tax collection or of her willingness to cynically exploit public ignorance regarding the matter.

Let me repeat that I find Commissioner Madigan’s behavior in her dealings with Mr. Solomon inexcusable.  I do not believe that her email to Mr. Solomon was a threat but an example of a pattern of intemperate behavior that she can be rightly criticized for.

Hopefully the voters of this city will be sophisticated enough to weigh the capabilities of the two candidates and not base their decision on who to vote for on this very unfortunate set of events.


[JK: I received the following statement from Commissioner Madigan]

Over the last nine months, as I’ve campaigned for my fifth term as our city’s commissioner of finance, I’ve encountered both the highs and lows of seeking public office:  the pleasure of interacting with thousands of my fellow citizens, listening to their ideas for what they want their city to be in the months and years ahead; and the on-going frustration of having my opponent’s campaign disseminate misleading information and flat-out  falsehoods on a number of topics throughout this election season. 

Recently, in a personal conversation on my private email account, I let those frustrations get the better of me.  I used language that was regrettable. I’m sincerely sorry I said it, even in private.  I am sincerely sorry for that. I have since apologized to the recipient of that email and I apologize to my supporters and our citizens for my use of poor judgment.

It is unfortunate that, now more than ever, it is politically fashionable to never admit a single mistake and to present yourself as wholly infallible at each and every turn.  But my time as a city official has taught me that true leadership requires more. A true leader is thoughtful and reflective. A true leader holds him or herself accountable even in the face of political discomfort.

All elected officials help constituents navigate bureaucracy; it’s part of the job. Most people feel betrayed when they discover that a friend is actively working against them, it is part of being human. As Finance Commissioner I have no power or authority over any business this man is doing with the city, and I regret that I made it sound like I did. I do not, have not, and will never use my office for any other purpose than to benefit the city.

Who Would You Hire to Oversee the City’s Finances?  Michele Madigan or Patty Morrison?

[JK: Link to video fixed]

In our form of government, the Commissioner of Finance is the chief financial officer of the city.  This job involves:

 

  • the responsibility for 8 different City budgets every year
  • working closely with the other Council members and all the city departments to balance and prioritize their needs within the limits of estimated revenues, the New York State 2% tax cap, and the interests of the taxpayer
  • overseeing the implementation of the budget
  • maintaining a  balanced budget
  • making budget adjustments as the year progresses
  • making borrowing and investment decisions

This job requires many skills. For instance:  

  • attention to details
  • a mind for numbers
  • an understanding of the regulations that determine how money is raised and how it is spent in a municipality
  • the ability to hire skilled staff to assist in managing all these responsibilities.  

 

When we vote for a candidate for Commissioner of Finance we are, in effect, hiring a person to do this job.

 

There is no question that there are issues to consider outside of the skills required to manage the city’s finances.  In our form of government the person holding this office will also, as a City Council member, be in a position to vote on important issues facing the city such as the hospital expansion, how the city should grow, bike trails, etc.

I am concerned, though, that many voters may underestimate how much damage a person can do if they are put in charge of the Finance Department and lack the necessary knowledge and skills to manage it.

At the League of  Women Voters forum last week, voters were  finally given the opportunity to compare the two candidates running for Commissioner of Finance this year: the current Commissioner, Michele Madigan, and Patty Morrison. The contrast between the performances of the two candidates was striking.  Ms. Morrison seemed completely at sea when she had to address questions  about the Finance Office.  It appeared that she saw no need to prepare herself for this event by learning about the responsibilities and workings of the department she seeks to head. Instead she relied on pushing vague sound bite type issues about

the alleged unresponsiveness of government which she promised to remedy.

In contrast, Ms. Madigan talked in detail about what the Finance Office does and the many things that she has done to both make that office more efficient and to utilize that office in forwarding the progress of the city. 

Voters need to get away from indulging in focusing on personality when assessing candidates. Elections are about choosing the most competent person to do a job, not on choosing who you would like to invite to a dinner party or who you would like to have a beer with.  

I know that the readers of this blog are busy people but I urge them to take the time to watch the approximately twenty-five minutes of the League of Women Voters’ Candidates’ Night during which Ms. Madigan and Ms. Morrison were questioned and decide for themselves who is best suited to take on the responsibility of managing our city’s finances.

The segment where the two debated can be found here At 1:25

Mayor Kelly Announces EMS Location For East Side and Eastern Plateau

[JK: I received this press release from Mayor Kelly’s Office]

EAST SIDE FIRE/EMS STATION 3 IS ON THE MAP!

Mayor Meg Kelly, City of Saratoga Springs, is thrilled to announce that she has secured a tentative agreement for a third FIRE/EMS station. Mayor Kelly is negotiating a land-use agreement for a parcel located on the Oklahoma side of the Saratoga Race Course, after years of unsuccessful efforts spanning numerous administrations. This station will serve “District 3”, including the ‘eastern plateau’, a region that has been advocating since its considerable growth for improved response rates.

“Finding the right location to meet this critical need has been my top priority,” states Mayor Kelly. “My administration has been steadfast in its efforts to make improved FIRE/EMS service a reality for our citizens, and it is happening.

Thanks goes to the Franchise Oversight Board for its thoughtful consideration of an excellent solution to this longstanding issue. I would also like to thank the New York Racing Association (NYRA) for supporting and facilitating this important public safety matter.”

The Mayor believes that the long-awaited FIRE/EMS Station 3 will be huge asset to the people of the City of Saratoga Springs.

“I appreciate all of the many efforts that have gone into and will continue to go into the completion of this essential building and service. We will see this through,” states the Mayor

The Hospital Expansion: Why Our Community Needs To Support It

Our city faces some critical questions about the future of Saratoga Hospital. Resistance by its neighbors to its acquisition of property for a planned medical office building has been ferocious. It is understandable why the neighbors who abut the property fear its impact, but the coverage has confused some key issues which need to be addressed because many are unaware of just how important the Hospital’s plans are.

An Essential Institution For Our City

In 2015 the city adopted a Comprehensive Plan that acknowledged the importance of the Hospital to Saratoga Springs. In the section titled “3.1 Economic Strength and Stability” item 3.1-3 recommends:

Support the viability and growth of the community’s unique institutions (e.g. Skidmore College, Saratoga Hospital, SPAC, Saratoga Spa State Park, and the race tracks)…

In fact the 1960 Master Plan and 1970 Comprehensive Plan also address plans by the Hospital to expand and the need to plan for future expansions.

The Hospital contributes critically to the health (pardon the pun) of the city. Obviously it provides critical healthcare but it is also a major employer in the city. The spinoff of the incomes it generates are an important element to the vitality of our downtown. It also has an impact on property values. Having a top notch hospital within the city is a consideration for people deciding to live in this community.

The Viability Of Our Hospital Should Not Be Taken For Granted

This year news stories reported that Glens Falls Hospital’s financial condition had deteriorated to the point of crisis. A story in the March 3, 2019, edition of the Post Star Newspaper led with “Glens Falls Hospital is in dire financial trouble…” In a rapidly changing environment in the health industry with the costs of equipment and care constantly rising, maintaining the viability of a large and complex institution like a hospital requires skilled management. This community would be reckless to simply assume that our Hospital will always flourish. That explains why the city’s Comprehensive Plan asserts that the city must be proactive in supporting “the viability and growth” of Saratoga Hospital.

To set a context for the proposed Hospital expansion, consider its recent meteoric growth as shown by the following statistics: In 2005 physician visits at the Hospital were 116,899. In 2018, thirteen years later they had risen to 304,930. They basically tripled. Between 2005 and 2019 net revenue rose from $109,884,412.00 to $369,110,417.00. These numbers reflect a stunning rate of growth.

Probably the best way to dramatize the Hospital’s growth is to compare the following pictures. The first was taken some time in the 1950’s. The second is a recent image. It is important to note that these only show the structures that face Church Street. They do not include the many other offices at other locations. In fact, in order to address the critical need for space, some of the offices now located at the main site are going to be moved to the Wilton Mall.

 

I know that the critics of the Hospital expansion will seize on the Wilton Mall location to further their argument that the Hospital has other options for growth but that misses the fundamental point. It makes common sense to focus critical care in a single location. Yes, ancillary activities can be farmed out to other locations but critical care needs to be centralized.

The area proposed for the medical office building not only makes sense today but perhaps more importantly allows the Hospital to have options to address future needs. A responsible management team must be thinking long term. These parcels are the last pieces of undeveloped land contiguous to the Hospital and have too much potential for the Hospital to have passed on the opportunity to secure them.

Saratoga County’s continued growth and the expanding nature of healthcare require that management think not only about current needs but also the needs of our community for decades to come.  Such was the view of planners more than half a century ago when they wrote the 1960 Master Plan and the 1970 Comprehensive Plan. We are the beneficiaries of that foresight. 

A Dose Of Reality

In her Readers View piece in the Saratogian, candidate Patty Morrison describes the area where the Hospital wants to build in bucolic terms. An innocent reader might think that the expansion is a threat to the greenbelt. In fact the land is actually zoned for residential development and currently allows for the building of single family homes on quarter acre plots. This is not a fight over the greenbelt.

Final Thoughts

Anyone who has followed my blog over the last few years knows that I have been a fierce defender of neighborhoods threatened by inappropriate development. Decisions by the land use boards in the past were heavily weighted against the wishes of residents and in favor of developers whose upscale housing projects intruded on neighborhoods and served the interests of profits for the developer rather than the public interest. To my mind, there was extensive abuse, particularly by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

I believe this Hospital proposal is  different, however, from the conflicts over development projects such as Downton Walk on Jumel Place. The Hospital is a not for profit institution that provides service to the community and maintaining its “viability and growth” as our Comp Plan states is in the interest of the community at large. This is not a project designed for the benefit of a wealthy few.

It is essential of course that the city’s Planning Board rigorously insist that the design of the Hospital’s project take into account the quality of life of the residents who will be impacted. Issues of buffering, lighting, runoff, traffic, etc. need to be rigoously addressed. I have enormous respect for Mark Torpey who chairs the Planning Board, and Mayor Kelly has made new appointments to the land use boards who are independent of the development industry. To the extent possible, I believe the impact of the project on the neighborhood will be mitigated.

We live in a culture with an ethos of “take the money and run.” Long term planning is too often the victim of short term needs. Later people wonder as to why no one earlier saw this disaster or that coming. This Hospital is going to continue to grow. The question we, as a community, must ask is “will it grow smart?”

We need to think about the future of our city and the key role we will want our Hospital to play. I encourage people to support the Hospital’s proposed expansion.