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.

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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.

The Great Mystery! Who hired Michael Prezioso, the Director of the Saratoga Department of Mental Health?

Something called the Community Services Board is responsible for the oversight of the Saratoga County Department of Mental Health.  Spenser Hellwig told the Saratogian that the CSB hired Prezioso.  In an email to a constituent, Matt Veitch who is both the Saratoga Springs Supervisor and the chairman of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, wrote “…they [CBS} made the ultimate decision as to the director’s appointment.”   The truth of these two statements is very much in doubt.

I have FOILed the county for all the records associated with the hiring.  I was notified by the clerk of the Board of Supervisors that I would receive their response on July 6.  It is not a surprise that this is the last day the county would have to respond and be in compliance with FOIL.

Stay tuned.

Politicians Acting Badly: Matt Veitch, Peter Martin, Joanne Yepsen

Dennis Yusko, reporter for the Times Union, recently reported on Michael Prezioso,  the recently hired Director of Mental Health for Saratoga County.  His article documents that Prezioso was hired for the position in spite of the fact that an investigation by the New York State Department of Mental Health  found that he had sexually harassed a female employee for over a year.  In a later  story  he also reports on the exodus of the three psychiatrists that had worked at the department along with other professional staff as a result of Prezioso’s managment.  This is a link to the story: http://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Saratoga-County-mental-health-director-under-fire-6300510.php

What has been most disturbing has been the effort by Saratoga Springs Supervisors Matt Veitch (who currently is the chairman of the Board of Supervisors) and Peter Martin to suppress a public discussion of what is going on.  At the City Council meeting that followed the article linked to above, neither man mentioned the issue.  When pressed by the Saratogian, Veitch offered some vague statement about how the county was looking into the matter.  Members of the Saratoga Springs City Council had planned to put the issue of the Mental Health Department as an item on the Council agenda but were successfully lobbied by both men not to.  When members of the City Council then decided to have a press conference on the issue, both supervisors again campaigned against it.  They were almost successful.

Joanne Yepsen’s office was supposed to take care of publicizing the press conference.  By 4PM on the eve of the press conference, nothing had gone out to the press.  Bear in mind that a variety of people, representatives of several area organizations, and Commissioners Mathiesen and Madigan had arranged their schedules to be at the event the next day.  Dennis Yesko had referenced the upcoming event on his blog.  Jane Weihe called the mayor’s office and was told that the staff knew nothing about it and she wasn’t there.

At 4:28PM  Ms. Weihe texted the mayor asking “Has the press call gone out yet?”

At 4:46PM  Mayor Yepsen texted back “Hi Jane.  We can’t use the City Council Room and Michelle [Madigan} has backed out.  I am at an event.  Can I call you soon?”

Ms. Weihe then called Madigan who said she had not backed out and would be at the event as planned.

The mayor then called Ms. Weihe and told her that her legal council had advised that it would be improper to use the council chambers for the event and that it would be improper for her to lead such an event.  As such, while she would attend the press conference, she would not provide it with space, send out the press releases, or play a leading role.  It is not clear exactly when Yepsen planned to share this change of plans  with the Commissioners and others who planned to attend the press conference the next day

After Eileen Finneran had taken over the task of doing the press call and it had been decided to have the event on the steps of city hall and it became clear that the event was going to go ahead, Yepsen offered to help find another location for it.  Ms. Weihe declined the offer.

Sarah Burger and the Friends She Keeps

Sarah Burger appears to be a one issue candidate.  Her campaign can be pretty much reduced to her attack of Chris Mathiesen over his handling of the deal to build an emergency station on the east side.  She has been pretty much silent on all the other major issues facing the city.  In particular she has been no where to be found on the question of the Saratoga National Golf Course attempt to breach the city’s green belt.

The answer to the mystery may be revealed by the company she keeps.  At her event announcing her run she chose Gary Dake, the head of Stewarts Shops (whose ugly stores are a road map of sprawl) to introduce her.  Mr. Dake is one of the founders of a new PAC which appears to have been created because of the defeat of the Saratoga National Golf Course.    http://wnyt.com/article/stories/s3715797.shtml

In addition, her web site, which contains many pictures from her fund raiser (and which has only the most vague and nebulous statements about where she stands on the issues) has a picture that includes Todd Shimkus, the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.  As far as anyone can tell, Mr. Shimkus has never seen a development he did not love and embrace.  In spite of the fact that his board never took a position on bringing full casinos to Saratoga Springs, after the Racino itself, he was probably the most ardent cheerleader for them.  He was also the full throated advocate for Saratoga National Golf Course’s attempt to breach the city’s greenbelt.  The following is a link from Ms. Burger’s site.  Mr. Shimkus is at the far left of the picture.

Mayor Yepsen Reneges And Entangles Herself

At the June 16 City Council meeting there was a discussion of a letter sent to the Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, regarding the controversy over the deal for the city to purchase land from Joel Aronson for the new eastside emergency services building and for selling land downtown to Mr. Aronson. Following accusations that the city had failed to properly handle the deal and the announcement that Ray Watkin, Tom McTygue, and Remigia Foy were suing the city over the matter, the Attorney General initiated an investigation.

The investigation has dragged on for months as has the lawsuit. The letter, signed by Commissioners Madigan, Scirocco, Franck, and Mathiesen urged the Attorney General to complete the investigation. The letter noted that the issue was being exploited politically running up to the November election and that the Attorney General needed to complete the investigation to resolve the issue prior to the election. It also noted that the city had spent significantly to address both the Attorney General’s investigation and the suit and that the longer this went on, the greater the expense.

Commissioner Mathiesen noted that Mayor Yepsen had agreed to be a signatory and had later refused to sign the letter. He asked if she would explain why. She asserted that the letter had been delivered to her office by one of the deputies of another commissioner “demanding” her signature and when she read the letter she determined she could not sign it. When it was pointed out to her that the letter had been read to her at an earlier meeting and she had strongly endorsed it and agreed to sign it, things got very strange. Readers of this blog are urged to watch the video on the city’s web site. Rather than admit that she had originally agreed to sign she entangled herself in a defense that became more and more bizarre. It included the statement that the law suit had been dropped months ago.  This stunned the other members of the council who asked the obvious question: why had no one been told?  When pressed on this issue the city attorney, who works out of her office, was called to the microphone and indicated that in order to drop the suit there would have had to have been a court filing and the mayor’s office would have been notified. No such notification had been received.  Things just got stranger as the mayor, while trying to extricate herself from this gaff, entangled herself more.

There is much more and this summary does not do the episode justice. To watch the spectacle:
Click on this link:

You cannot make this stuff up.