Group To Demonstrate Against PAC

This is a release I received from a group opposed to the Saratoga PAC

Media advisory for Tuesday, October 20

Contact:   Joe Seeman (518) 583-4326

Saratoga County Residents Against PACS

Protest against Corruption of 1% Buying Elections

Call for Democracy not Plutocracy

The 1% of Saratoga have formed their own Super PAC (Political Action Committee) which can spend unlimited sums to support and attack political candidates, and buy elections. So concerned citizens will protest against this Corruption outside the Saratoga PAC’s reception at the Holiday Inn, Tues Oct. 20 at 5pm.

Super PACs allow the wealthiest 1% to spend unlimited amounts to buy elections and political influence. This amounts to the theft of Democracy. All supporters of Democracy are invited join us to protest against the Corruption of PACs buying elections, and to call for Democracy not Plutocracy.
Protesters will call for all local candidates and elected officials to pledge to reject the money of this Super PAC, and ask voters to reject candidates who are willing to accept dark money from this or any Super PAC.
Since the Supreme Court’s absurd Citizens United decision, the floodgates have opened for unlimited amounts of money to be poured into political campaigns.  Protesters will call for Campaign Finance Reform to close these floodgates, including a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United, and publicly funded elections to allow candidates to run without legalized Bribes which result in virtual ownership of elected officials.  In a recent Bloomberg poll, 78% said the Citizens United ruling should be overturned (http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-09-28/bloomberg-poll-americans-want-supreme-court-to-turn-off-political-spending-spigot).

“PACs are dangerous because they easily hide the names of who gives to them and who they fund,” said Regina Camilletti of Saratoga Springs.  “The people behind this PAC are comfortable with gaining power and buying influence at the expense of their neighbors and their Nation”.

“People are sick and tired of Super PAC attack ads, and of 1 Percenters who think they can buy elections,” said Sharon McFarlane of Wilton. “The people of Saratoga County and all of America are demanding a government that represents all of the people, and not just wealthy developers and corporations who are behind these PACs”.

WHEN:           Tuesday, October 20, 2015 at 5:00 PM

WHERE:         outside the Holiday Inn, 232 Broadway, Saratoga Springs NY

WHO:             Saratoga County Residents Against PACs, members of MoveOn and other concerned citizens

WHY:              Super PACs Destroy Democracy

Visuals:  Signs, Banners and speakers

supporters of Democracy are encouraged to RSVP at RSVP:

http://pol.moveon.org/event/moveonaction/145416 & https://www.facebook.com/events/1708661026032279

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City Releases FOIL Documents Re City Center and City Officials To Pedinotti Lawyer…Kind Of

FOIL Appeal City Center Madigan-5 FOIL Appeal City Center Madigan-4

Links To PDF files of all the documents:

FOIL Doc #1

FOIL Doc #2

FOIL Doc #3

FOIL Doc #4

Ken Ivins sent me the documents associated with the FOIL by Jonathan Tingley who is the attorney representing the Pedinottis, the owners of the Mouzon House who are suing the city.  According to  the available documents, the FOIL was for communications between Michele Madigan and “any other person” relating to

“(1)the proposed City Center Authority parking garage (2) Section 6.4.8 of the Zoning Ordinance; the March 23, 2015 ZBA denial of the City Center Authority’s request for an area variance; or (4) the Mouzon House or David or Dianne Pedinotti”

And communications between the City Center and any member of the City Council.

As best I understand it, the city contends that it is not required to provide material that “consists of opinions, observations, recommendations, and other non-factual material between members of the City Council and representatives of the City Center Authority.”

I have been through this issue before as regards FOIL.  As I understand it, when it comes to correspondence in general between public institutions, items of fact are accessible through the FOIL process but opinions, etc. are not.  This has something to do with allowing officials to correspond candidly without having to worry about how their words might be interpreted or used.

Mr. Tingley also argued that the City Center was acting as a private developer and that for some reason this would exempt them from the protection that the city exercised.  Attorney Izzo then argues that the City Center cannot be considered a private developer and denies the request on that basis as well.

The result of all of this are a set of emails provided to Attorney Tingley where pretty much the entire body of many of the emails is expunged.  You get to see who the emails are to and who they are from as well as the date they were sent but no more.  In some cases there is a salutation like “Mark,” or “Michele” and an ending like “Mark” or “Michele.”

Some History And Context

As many readers will remember, the city removed the downtown district from the restriction that solar panels cannot be shadowed by neighboring buildings or trees.  The issue was precipitated by the Mouzon House which installed passive solar panels to heat water.  Based on the existing ordinance, this meant that the City Center would not be able to build its garage.  In light of the fact that the Pedinottis seemed to be in a sufficient rush that they did not secure a building permit or DRC approval as required before installing the units and that they chose to use non-photovoltaic units which were considerably cheaper, many people, myself among them, suspected that the purpose of the units had more to do with their conflict with the City Center than with saving energy.

Given the passions surrounding the City Center Garage there developed two narratives regarding the solar ordnance change.

The first was that the zoning law change occurred as part of a conspiracy between the City and the City Center to nullify the law protecting the Pedinotti’s solar panels so that the City Center could build its garage.

The second, and one I share, was that the Pedinotti’s actions exposed a fundamental problem with the zoning law as regards the downtown.  The City’s Comprehensive Plan calls for intense development downtown.  Such development necessarily entails building “up” since building out would compromise the City’s desire to maintain a greenbelt.  It was noted that the very popular Northshire Book Store building could not have been constructed had either of their neighbors placed solar panels on their roofs prior to its construction.

One assumes that in his FOIL, Mr. Tingley was seeking evidence to bolster the conspiracy theory.

The Documents

The first documents are the response to the original FOIL request before the appeal.  There is a cover letter from City Attorney Vincent DeLeonardis.  What follows are the minutes of several City Center meetings and a letter to the editor written by Michele Madigan.  The next set of documents begins with a letter from City Attorney Izzo responding to the appeal by Tingley by agreeing to provide additional documents.  As noted above, these additional documents are extensively redacted.

There are emails from:

  1. Commissioner Michele Madigan
  2. Commissioner Chris Mathiesen
  3. Commissioner John Franck
  4. Zoning Board of Appeals chairman William Moore
  5. Zoning Board of Appeals vice-chairman Keith Kaplan
  6. Builder Sonny Bonaccio
  7. Keith M. Ferraro (Works for Bonaccio)

The emails can be very confusing.  Instead of blacking out text, they have whited it out.  This creates extensive areas of white in the document so it is often hard to know what you are looking at.  There is also the problem of many duplications of the same email.  As most people know, when you respond to an email, the text from the original sender is included with your response.  Due to the lack of formatting, it is impossible to tell when any individual piece of email ends.  This results in repeated reproductions of emails.  I did not have the patience to go through the document to determine exactly how many emails are involved.  The result is that glancing through the document makes it appear that there were many, many, many redacted emails when in fact, most of them are simply duplicates.

The little text that is there shows:

  1. Mark Baker, the executive director of the City Center, worked hard to organize support for the zoning change.
  2. Sonny Bonaccio was out of town but offered to do what he could to support the change.
  3. Mark Baker sought clarification about the time line for the process.
  4. Mark Baker thanked Chris Mathiesen for his vote supporting the change.
  5. Mark Baker thanked Skip Scirocco for his vote supporting the change.
  6. Mark Baker informed Michele Madigan that Todd Shimkus and someone from Bonaccio construction would be speaking in support of the zoning change.
  7. Sonny Bonaccion opines that of all the members of the City Council, Michele Madigan is the only one he likes (the only amusing item in all the documents).

Analysis

First it is important to understand who redacted the documents and what the process was like.

The FOIL requests all go to the City Attorney.  It is his responsibility to review the documents to see whether it is appropriate to release them (redacted or not).  It is my understanding that he does not consult the individuals associated with the document(s).

It is also reasonable to expect that given the litigious history of the Pedinottis that the City Attorney would be extremely cautious as to what was released.  The attorney sees his role as doing everything possible to minimize the risk to the City.

I personally believe that the council acted to change the zoning law not just because the policy was problematic for the City Center but because it was problematic for the downtown. I do not see the two as mutually exclusive.  I would expect that if the full text of all the redacted documents were released they would simply document that the City Center wanted the changes which is hardly revelatory and that members of the Council agreed that the change would benefit both the City Center and the entire downtown.  Yes, I am conjecturing.

Just because something is legal does not mean that it should be done.  I believe that it is bad public policy to be so conservative in barring the public from  information about the exchanges between our city and other institutions except in the cases of such things as litigation, personnel matters, and negotiations.  The excessive redacting of documents leads to the understandable suspicion that what is being hidden is somehow wrong and should be exposed.  Documents should only be redacted on the same basis that some meetings can be done in executive session.  Only if the subject involves litigation, personnel, or negotiations should they be hidden.  The more the public can know about the actions of their government, the stronger our democratic institutions will be.

If I were king, I would require that before a City Attorney denied a FOIL request or redacted it, that the attorney would consult the author of the document to find out whether they want to exercise their right to withhold the information.

Having said that, I concede that it is by no means a simple issue.  I have seen the damage a poorly crafted document can have in the hands of a skilled attorney.  This is the kind of thing that people of goodwill can disagree about.

FOIL Appeal City Center Madigan-4

Reflections on Election Letters In Saratoga Today Newspaper

This week’s Saratoga Today has four interesting letters to the editor. Unfortunately, the letters are not up on their website.  You’ll have to pick up a copy of the paper around town to read them and see if you agree with my analysis.

Least interesting is the letter from David Buchyn who is secretary of Upstate Conservative Party.  He endorses Wirth and Safford.  The most interesting thing about the endorsement is who they did not endorse.  They did not endorse Ivins or Scirocco.

In another letter, Bill Dake who has shepherded Stewarts into a multi-million dollar operatiin identifies himself as simply “the former chair of the Saratoga County Planning Board.”  As a side note, Tom Lewis, who was employed by Dake, chaired the Saratoga Springs Republican Party, and is currently the chief of staff for Senator Kathy Marchione, followed Dake as chair of the Saratoga County Planning Board.  If you ran Stewarts Shops, how helpful would it be to know way ahead of time what housing developments were potentially going up in the county?   Would this help both to plan where to put your next Stewart’s Shop and assist you in buying the property to put the new shop on at the best price?   How helpful would it be to chair the county’s Planning Board? 

Mr. Dake is one of the founders of the Saratoga PAC.

In effect he offers the wisdom that the city does not need to worry about protecting any greenbelt since the surrounding towns will provide all the rural land the city needs.  Mr. Dake worries: “After all we are a city and we may be frustrating ourselves by trying to fit rural characteristics within the city limits when they exist so naturally in conjunction with the surrounding towns.  Planning buzzwords like ‘A City In The Country’ and the ‘Greenbelt’ can be taken to extreme and create artificial situations, versus fit (sic) the logical long-term needs of our community.”  The words of wisdom from the emperor of sprawl.

Then we have Stephen T. Rodriguez who identifies himself as the Chair of the Saratoga Springs Republican Party.  He attacks Mayor Yepsen for having her fundraiser at Saratoga National Golf Course in light of the fact that she will have to vote on their proposal.  He asserts that it was a conflict of interest to have her fundraiser there.  He then asserts that it was “bad faith to either Saratoga National or those who support this project or to her Sustainable Saratoga supporters who have been vocal against it.”

I share his frustration regarding her unwillingness to say anything substantive about the issue.  She could have killed the project by joining Mathiesen and Scirocco who believe it is a violation of the principles of the conservation district or she could have announced her alliance with Madigan and Franck who want the project to move forward.

Finally we have Charles Brown’s piece.  He is the chairperson of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Party.  He is quite indignant, appropriately so, about Saratoga PAC.  He points to the obvious use of large sums of money by the construction, real estate, and financial industries to open the greenbelt for development. (I’m assuming he means inappropriate or excessive development since some types of building are allowed in the greenbelt.)  He is, however, rather circumspect about  the specific development issues in this part of the city.  He gingerly notes “But the survey wording was calculated to shape people’s views on two key development related items the PAC has said it supports.”  Why is he so reticent to name what these issues are?  It is common knowledge that the initial resistance to Saratoga National Golf Course’s expansion by the City Council is what helped to mobilize the PAC.  Mr. Brown’s problem is that John Franck and Michele Madigan have made clear that they want to work with Saratoga National Golf Course to make the project happen and that Joanne Yepsen refuses to take a position on the project one way or the other.  Like Mayor Yepsen, he and his committee would prefer not to state any position.

 

Mouzon House Sues Saratoga Springs Over City Center Actions

From The Gazette:

Restaurant sues Saratoga Springs over garage plans

Owners fear shadows cast on solar panels

By Stephen Williams October 14, 2015

PHOTOGRAPHER: PATRICK DODSON

The Mouzon House, with Saratoga Springs City Center seen in the background, is pictured on Oct. 1

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The owners of the Mouzon House restaurant on York Street have sued the city in an effort to block plans for the City Center parking garage proposed to go up next door to their business.

The lawsuit filed Friday in state Supreme Court in Ballston Spa seeks to annul a law passed by the City Council in July that would allow the proposed 500-parking-space garage to cast a shadow on the solar panels the Mouzon House has on its roof. It also seeks to annul a subdivision of the parking garage site approved last month by the city Planning Board.

Mouzon House owners David and Diane Pedinotti have been outspoken opponents of the City Center’s proposed five-story garage, which would dwarf their fine-dining establishment. A number of other residents have also spoken out against the project, which City Center officials said is needed to meet the center’s and downtown’s parking needs.

“The Saratoga Springs City Center has pursued a project in contravention of the Zoning Ordinance,” the Pedinottis state in the lawsuit, which names the city, the City Council and Planning Board, and the Saratoga Springs City Center Authority.

According to court papers, the Mouzon House in 2011 approached city officials about installing solar panels on its roof. The panels were eventually installed in 2014 and generate electricity for the business.

The Zoning Board of Appeals in March ruled that under the city’s Solar Access Ordinance, the proposed garage couldn’t cast a shadow on those panels that would block access to the sun in the winter — in effect, blocking the controversial multi-story garage from being built.

But by a 3-2 vote in July, the City Council amended the Solar Access Law to exempt properties in the downtown area from the “shadow rule.” That is one of the actions the lawsuit seeks to overturn, with an argument that it was done solely to benefit the parking garage plan and without sufficient environmental review.

“The City Council did not identify the relevant areas of environmental concern, did not take a hard look at such areas of environmental concern, and did not make a reasoned elaboration for its conclusion that [Finance Commissioner Michele] Madigan’s proposed amendment … would not result in any potential environmental impacts,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also seeks a court ruling that the city violated the Freedom of Information Law by withholding some electronic correspondence between Madigan and the City Center after Mouzon House attorneys sought it through a FOIL request.

The lawsuit also contends that the subdivision approved last month by the city Planning Board is premature, given that the city on Sept. 29 received two private proposals to build mixed-use projects — residential, parking and commercial space — on the 2.62-acre lot, which is owned by the city. Those proposals are currently under review by the city.

City Attorney Vincent DeLeonardis did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

The city-owned lot now contains a surface parking lot.

An Ivins Press Release and a Madigan Response

I received a press release from Ken Ivins, who is running for Commissioner of Finance.  In his release he accuses Commissioner Madigan of receiving money from a lobbying firm that represents Saratoga National Golf Course.  I contacted him and asked if he could provide documentation for this and he indicated that, regrettably, he was unable to.

In fairness to his opponent, Commissioner Michele Madigan, I sent her the press release and asked if she wanted to respond.  She did and below are the press release and Commissioner Madigan’s response.


Ivins Declines to Meet with Saratoga PAC

“My vote is not for sale.”

For immediate release

10/13/15

 Ken Ivins Candidate for the position of Commissioner of Finance was invited to interview with the Saratoga PAC on Friday October 16th. He declined that invitation. His opponent Michelle Madigan not only agreed to meet with them , but invited them to City Hall for the meeting.

In an email sent to Bob Manz Chairman of the Saratoga PAC, Ken wrote:

Bob,

Thank you for the opportunity of meeting with the newly formed Saratoga PAC. After much reflection I have come to the conclusion that at this time I respectfully decline your invitation to be interviewed. While I appreciate the invitation, I am not seeking your endorsement and therefore don’t wish to waste your time.

Your group has conducted itself professionally and I have much respect for many of the individuals who comprise your Board. However, as I go door to door many citizens have expressed concerns about political influences from big money and special interest groups. Because your group has just recently emerged and thus has no track record, the community is very nervous.

As I have said from the beginning, because I am not endorsed by my local Party, I am running as an independent candidate, beholden to no one except the voters. I understand that leaves me at a disadvantage, especially financially, but I truly believe the position of Commissioner of Finance needs to be free from any perceptions of impropriety.

If I win the election, then I would be happy to sit down with any members of the Saratoga PAC and discuss the important issues of the city. Meanwhile, I would like to congratulate you all regarding the city-wide survey you conducted and I look forward to hearing the results.

Again thank you for inviting me and I hope to be talking with you in the future,

Ken Ivins

The current Commissioner has accepted over $500 from a lobbying firm representing Saratoga National Golf Course, received money and the endorsements from the City Fire Fighters union and the Saratoga Police Benevolent Association (groups whose contracts she would be voting on if re-elected), over $700 total from the director and members of the City Center Authority, (Madigan has still not released the emails she redacted between she and the Director of the City Center regarding the parking garage and her true role she has played in that process) and now she will meet with the Saratoga PAC. “It makes you wonder who she serves, special interest groups or the tax payers,” states Ken Ivins.

Ken goes on to say, “I will only represent the voters of this city, not the party bosses or a special interest group. My vote is not for sale.” 

Ken will having a press conference on Thursday, October 15th at 4:00pm at High Rock Parking lot to discuss this issue as well as the Comprehensive Budget presented by the current Commissioner and how it is designed intentionally with flaws to fool the public into voting for her.


Madigan Replies:

Dear members of the media:

I received the following press release last night and can only hope you will be contacting me to discuss all the lies and made up nonsense Mr. Ivins seems to be desperately peddling about me these days. This from a man who has lost his last 2 elections and could not obtain a 2nd on a motion for endorsement by his Republican Party to run again for finance commissioner.

What he writes about the PAC is not true. I declined to be interviewed by the Super PAC for an endorsement meeting at the holiday inn. I simply didn’t think this news required a headline / press release. I did tell them, and tell all my constituents, I’m available to meet as their elected commissioner of finance at city hall to listen to their issues and concerns. As I would any citizen.  The PAC has declined my offer to meet with me as constituents.

He lies regularly and doesn’t have the facts.  The attack he proposes on Thursday against my budget shows once again the man does not understand city finances. When this man was I charge of our city’s finances he would regularly tell the public he was “bamboozled” by his fellow council members and that if he didn’t know something he would simply “make it up”.

The PBA did not endorse me this time around because I did not support their contract. I’m watching out for the taxpayers. They have endorsed the Mayor and Commissioner Franck, both of whom voted in the affirmative for the PBA Contract.  The firefighters have never given me money. Some group gave me $250 – northeast government consulting – they give to everyone. The Mayor and various commissioners and have been donating since my first campaign. etc. They have never requested a meeting with me to discuss my positions on any issue.   I’m proud of my association with the city center and those constituents that represent me for a broad base of reasons. My vote is never and has never been for sale!!  My constituents know this.

As for my opponent, this is a man who raised taxes by over 12%, laid off 49 city employees, and found himself with millions in surplus at the end of each year of his years a Finance Commissioner.  There was no reason to ever lay off a single city employee. There is so much more I can say about his very poor budgeting technique on behalf of the taxpayers of this city.

Respectfully, Michele Madigan

Times Union Article On Saratoga PAC

BobManz

As Saratoga PAC grows, critics are galvanized

City groups rise up, lobby for, against golf expansion, candidates

By Dennis Yusko

Published 10:58 pm, Monday, October 12, 2015

As chief operating officer of D.A. Collins, Bob Manz bids on several heavy construction jobs each week. But as Election Day nears, the builder says he’s dedicating a lot of time to politics, too.

Manz, 54, chairs Saratoga PAC, an independent expenditure committee founded in June by mostly Republican business owners from Saratoga Springs. Backed by prominent names like developer Sonny Bonacio and Gary Dake, the president of Stewart’s Shops, the super PAC has raised $54,000 in contributions and spent $9,500, mostly to produce a 15-point “Quality of Life” survey it mailed out to 14,000 voters.

This is a TU+ story. Click for more information.

Saratoga PAC is interviewing and endorsing candidates in races for the five-member Saratoga Springs City Council, which is now controlled by four Democrats, and plans to weigh in on Saratoga County and state races in the future. Manz said the PAC was created to improve the area and counter opposition to Saratoga National Golf Club‘s proposed expansion. The club’s owners want to add hotel rooms, a spa and more to the 18-hole golf course near Northway Exit 14, but the project has not advanced because of zoning restrictions in the city’s rural outer district, or greenbelt.

“If you’re not growing, you’re going,” Manz argued recently in his upper-floor office at the Wilton Global Development Campus. “Business drives economy, and economy drives social settings.”

The prospect of a super PAC pouring tens of thousands of dollars into this small city’s political process has unexpectedly galvanized critics who say Saratoga PAC is a symptom of pay-to-play politics. In recent weeks, Mayor Joanne Yepsen and Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen, both of whom are Democrats, pledged not to accept support from the PAC. A group called Saratoga County Residents Against PACS (SCRAP) is rallying against the PAC on social media, while Saratogians Against Vegas-Style Expansion (SAVE Saratoga) reconvened to conduct its own survey of candidates for the upcoming city elections. Neither of those groups are raising funds.

Colin Klepetar, a co-founder of SAVE, recently delivered to the City Council the names of nearly 6,000 people who opposed siting a full-scale casino in the city. Klepetar, 36, said they, too, intend to play a role in city politics. He sees parallels between a destination casino and the proposed golf resort at Saratoga National Golf Club.

“In both cases, well-positioned and financed lobby groups attempt to influence the local political process and override the citizens/residents in our community,” Klepetar said. He said the golf resort plan conflicted with the city Comprehensive Plan’s goal of keeping major development in the downtown area.

Manz said those who claim the golf resort will open the greenbelt to development were “NIMBYs.” He said the project would dedicate hundreds of acres as green space, generate tax revenue and create a world-class resort. He did not name those he viewed as obstructing the project.

“I’m not going to comment on the City Council at this point,” Manz said. “There has been a lack of real forward planning and a lack of decision-making that has occurred, which has created, to some degree, a lack of direction in the city.”

Yepsen faces a challenge from Republican John Safford, who said Monday that he believes in and supports the PAC’s “smart-growth goals.” While Yepsen backed the golf club’s effort for a zoning text amendment, she is co-founder of Sustainable Saratoga, a group that opposes the club’s expansion. The mayor recently attended fundraisers in the city with U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and David Paterson, the former governor. Yepsen’s two-year-old campaign committee raised more than it ever has during the last reporting period and had $38,724 on hand, according to the state Board of Elections.

Joining Manz, Bonacio and Dake on the PAC board are Cindy Hollowood, operator and general manager of the Holiday Inn; C.J. DeCrescente, president of DeCrescente Distributing of Mechanicville; David Collins, an owner of D.A. Collins; Jeff Vukelic, principal manager of Saratoga Eagle Sales & Service; Rod Sutton, owner of Sutton and Tarantino Insurance Agency; Kathleen Smith, owner of Saratoga Arms; Gordon Boyd, founder of and consultant for EnergyNext; and Patrick Kane, a former city official.

The PAC raised $46,417 in its first five weeks, with more than a third coming from the Bonacio, Dake and Toohey families, according to the state Board of Elections.

While independent expenditure committees cannot give money directly to candidates, they can support them through an unlimited supply of independently purchased advertisements and campaign mailings.

“This gives them a voice well above the citizen with just one simple vote,” said Dave Morris, a member of Saratogians for Sustainable Housing.

Manz said the PAC will announce the results of its survey next week, then put out a list of endorsements. He said the group was not targeting a political party.

“We’re not buying politicians,” Manz said. “We are voicing our opinion. And we are voicing our opinions on a number of issues, hopefully to help Saratoga to move forward.”