Mayor Yepsen Replies On RFP

On July 12 I emailed Mayor Yespen to ask the details about what the physical area the proposed RFP for a mixed use garage/retail/residential development would cover.  It can be seen in an earlier post on this site.  I also asked what the timeline was for issuing the RFP and awarding the winner (assuming the city gets an acceptable proposal).  Last night the mayor responded.  Below is her email:

Hi John , the document is currently being prepared and near completion. As soon as the Council has had a chance to comment it will be released from the Accounts office for public review. All your questions will be addressed within the document. Thank you. 

Joanne 

Gazette Covers Mental Health Controversy: Matt Veitch Dimisses Need To Comply With Law

Saratoga County officials stand behind mental health director

Saratoga Springs Supervisor Matthew Veitch.

Saratoga Springs Supervisor Matthew Veitch.
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— Even as new questions are raised about his hiring last year, Saratoga County officials are standing behind embattled county Mental Health Director Michael Prezioso.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Matthew E. Veitch said all complaints against Prezioso and his management style have been investigated, and measures are being taken to replace psychiatrists who have left the county mental health clinic in Saratoga Springs.

“I believe that we have thoroughly investigated every claim, every allegation and all formal complaints and have taken action where appropriate to correct any deficiency or problem that was identified,” Veitch said in a statement late Tuesday.

But questions linger about the legality of Prezioso’s July 2014 appointment, which was made by the county Board of Supervisors rather than the Community Services Board, an advisory board of medical professionals and people with a connection to mental health and disabilities services.

State mental hygiene law gives the responsibility for appointing and removing a local mental health director to the Community Services Board in counties like Saratoga, which does not have a county charter.

However, in Prezioso’s case the appointment was made by the Board of Supervisors. The Community Services Board interviewed eight or nine candidates, and forwarded four names — including Prezioso’s — to the Board of Supervisors for consideration. A committee of supervisors and administrators then interviewed the candidates and made the recommendation, which the board approved unanimously.

“Dr. Prezioso clearly stood out to the hiring committee as the best candidate for the job,” said Veitch, who was on the selection committee. Prezioso is a doctor of psychology.

Jerry Luhn, an attorney retired from the state Commission on Quality Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, said Prezioso’s hiring process appears to have violated the law.

“By my reading of the statute, it seems to be pretty direct and clear, it is a violation,” said Luhn, an associate council to the commission for 27 years.

He said be believes the law’s intention is to have those with a stake in mental health services appointing the director, “not necessarily political professionals.”

There doesn’t appear to be any penalty written into the mental hygiene law for violation.

In 2010 and 2011, then-state Sen. Roy McDonald, a former member of the Saratoga County board, proposed legislation to change the law and give hiring and firing responsibility to the Board of Supervisors. It was not approved by the state Legislature.

On Wednesday, Veitch acknowledged the issue.

“I’m not going to comment on whether it was done according to the law, but it’s the hiring process we have used in the past,” he said.

Veitch said the same selection process was used in hiring the previous mental health director, Hans Lehr, in 2011. Lehr, however, was previously the deputy director, and there was no controversy about his appointment. His retirement in early 2014 led to the vacancy that was filled by Prezioso, who began work last September.

Prezioso, who was previously director of in-patient services at the Capital District Psychiatric Center in Albany, has proven a divisive figure, with many employees objecting to his management style.

The controversy grew when it became public that an internal investigation by the state Office of Mental Health in 2008 found he has sexually harassed a female CDPC employee in 2006 and 2007.

Prezioso has denied the charge, and county officials said they are satisfied with his explanation of events.

In early June, three Saratoga Springs City Council members called for an investigation, citing the harassment finding and complaints from employees about the work atmosphere under the new department head.

Since early this year, three psychiatrists have left the county mental health clinic, which is located on South Broadway. At least one, who spoke in early June on condition of anonymity, said they left due to Prezioso’s “ineffective leadership.” The psychiatrists actually work for Saratoga Hospital, which has a contract with the county.

But according to county officials, the departures had to do with a general shortage of psychiatrists nationally, and the doctors are being replaced. The county has also hired a psychiatric nurse-practitioner to see patients.

The controversy, however, has led some supervisors to deflect responsibility for the hiring onto the Community Services Board — in error, according to that board’s chairman, Frank Arcangelo, who said it had no input in the final decision.

“I am aware that NYS mental hygiene statue grants the local CSBs greater administrative scope than our current (or historical) model would suggest, but this has not been the model adopted in Saratoga County for many years,” Arcangelo wrote in a June 24 letter to County Administrator Spencer Hellwig.

He said the Community Services Board is open to discussing changes in the board’s responsibilities in overseeing the department. The members of the Community Services Board are appointed by the Board of Supervisors.

Veitch said he didn’t know whether any changes would be considered in the future.

A representative of the state Office of Mental Health, which provides a large share of the Mental Health Department’s funding, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The department has a $10.5 million budget, which pays for outpatient care, a day treatment and an alcoholism treatment program.

Another of the four finalists for director, Megan Johnson, joined the county earlier this month as deputy director of mental health, an appointment Prezioso has the authority to make. She was previously Warren County’s deputy mental health director.

Yesko At Times Union Exposes County Again

In today’s TU, Dennis Yusko blogs what will appear in print tomorrow.  In Matt Veitch’s prepared statement he asserted that the psychiatrists that left the local department of mental health did so for better jobs.  In his article, Dennis Yusko interviewed Dr. Jack Dodd who had been employed at the department.  Dr. Dodd rebuts Veitch’s account.  He describes a department that is mismanaged and whose atmosphere makes providing care extremely challenging.

“The county’s absolute indifference to people’s welfare and morale made me hate working for them,” Dodd said. “Nothing changed, despite serious concerns.”

Times Union Article

RFP For Mixed Use Structure In City Parking Lot Falls In Burge’s Lap

My sources tell me that Brad Burge, head of the city planning department, has just been tasked with writing an RFP for the mixed use development of the city parking lot.

John Franck has not responded to my email asking him why, after volunteering to write the RFP, he passed it on to the mayor’s office.

Supervisor Matt Veitch Issues “Final” Statement On The Mental Health Issue. Good Luck Matt

At 4:32 PM this afternoon, Matt Veitch emailed a Statement to the area newspapers.

The indifference to transparency and accountability of Supervisor Veitch’s statement is quite impressive.  Mr. Veitch avoids the danger of talking directly to the press by issuing a carefully crafted statement that ends with “ This will be the final public statement the County will make regarding the current situation at the Mental Health Center.”

The Saratogian got in under the wire and received answers to their questions although apparently even those were done by email.  This statement was sent to the Saratogian, the Gazette, the Times Union, and Saratoga Today.  So I guess those newspapers will not have the privilege of asking any questions of anyone from the county.

Analysis

Veitch asserts that “The County used the same hiring process it has used for many years in hiring the current Director, as well as past Directors.”

First, the fact that there is a history of the county improperly usurping the legal responsibilities of the Community Services Board in no way excuses the violation of the law.  If anything it is a further indictment that they have been ignoring the law for years.

In fact, Dr. Dale Angstrom was selected by the Community Services Board.  The next director along with Dr. Prezioso was hired by the county.

Veitch’s carefully crafted statement never acknowledges the law.  It is as if the law does not exist.  Nor does he entertain the idea that maybe they should review the law and follow it.  Obviously, Supervisor Veitch prefers controlling the patronage.  Why allow some professionals in the mental health field on a board to interfere.

The statement also does not acknowledge the unpleasant fact that both he and Hellwig made statements that the CSB hired Prezioso when the published facts document that this was not true.

The statement does not acknowledge that Saratoga County is out of compliance with the Mental Hygiene law in that they no longer have a functioning Community Services Board.  According to the FOIL response from the county, the CSB has no mission statement, no bylaws, and no minutes.  We also have a letter from the chair of the CSB in which they state they did not select Prezioso nor do they know what their role is.  Again, Supervisor Veitch does not entertain the idea that the failure of the CSB to function according to the law is a problem.

Mr. Veitch states, “The County has discussed with Dr. Prezioso certain allegations (my emphasis) made against him at his previous place of employment and we are satisfied with his explanation of the events.”  I rather enjoy how delicate they are about Dr. Prezioso’s history of sexual harassment.  It’s disingenuous and frankly an insult to one’s intelligence that the Chair of the Board of Supervisors put his name to the prepared narrative, asserting against all evidence to the contrary that the Capital District Psychiatric Center incident was a mere “allegation” left to be refuted in a presumably closed interview.  It was an allegation on day 1, until OMH investigated, and made a formal finding of wrongful conduct against Dr. P; paid compensation to the complainant for her injuries suffered; removed him from the line of her direct supervision; and he did not appeal or in any way alter the hospital’s [CDPC’s] finding, which means the determination stands as final, a matter of established fact.

As to the statement by Veitch that none of the psychiatrists left because of the poisonous atmosphere, this is also false and hopefully one of those doctors will eventually speak out.

It is also incredibly self serving that the County investigated themselves and found themselves innocent.  It is possible that the CSEA agrees with them.  Let’s remember this is the same union that supported Raucci at the Schenectady School district until he was arrested and went to jail.  It is also possible that CSEA does not agree with them.  After all, the track record of the county making statements that are consistent with the public record is not good

Veitch’s statement also obscures the management problems there by saying that no individual action investigated by the county rose to the level of firing.  They acknowledge  though that “… some were counseled as to proper workplace conduct.”    This little phrase “workplace conduct” is the issue.  Prezioso is one of those managers who creates factions of those considered loyal and those considered disloyal.  The conflicts of such factions erode the morale of an organization.

It will be interesting to see how the area newspapers respond.

Saratogian Newspaper Confirms VIolation of State Law In Prezioso Hiring

Paul Post of the Saratogian has written a story called “Who Hired Mental Health Director.”

It is interesting that consistent with the indifference to transparency and openness, county administrator Hellwig Spenser, apparently would only answer questions via email.  Clearly he wanted to avoid the risk of follow up questions that might further expose the truth.  The story makes clear that the assertions by Hellwig and Supervisor Matt Veitch that the Community Services Board selected Dr. Michael Prezioso are false.  Unfortunately, Hellwig was able to assert that the psychiatrists did not leave because of the poisonous environment at the department and that the department is functioning effectively without rebuttal.  Neither of these things are true.  It is clear that the county is going to support Dr. Prezioso in spite of the damage that he is doing to the department.

Who hired mental health director?

Independent board lacked say in final selection

The controversial Saratoga County mental health clinic director was one of four candidates recommended for the job by an independent board which, according to state law, should have been making the ultimate decision.

Instead, the county Board of Supervisors reviewed the finalists and chose Dr. Michael Prezioso, saying later they didn’t know he had sexually harassed an employee at his previous workplace.

And while County Administrator Spencer Hellwig acknowledged that the fairly recent departure of doctors created a shortage that affected services, he made no connection between their leaving and Prezioso’s management style and said the staff situation has been resolved.

The hiring and staffing issues raise questions about how candidates are vetted and the relationship between Saratoga County and the Community Services Board.

Hellwig has said the Community Services Board, established by state law, does the hiring for this position. However, board Chairman Dr. Frank Arcangelo, in a letter to Hellwig, said the board simply reviewed and ranked four finalists for the job, and that the county chose Prezioso from that list. He did not say where Prezioso stood in the rankng.

“The final selection and hiring was conducted by the (county) personnel department and not the Community Services Board,” Arcangelo said in a June 24 letter to Hellwig. “In fact, as far as I know, no formal feedback was ever provided to the Community Services Board about the hiring process or decision, as board members found out (who was chosen) via the article eventually appearing in the local newspaper.”

Prezioso, who makes $97,244, has been the subject of ongoing controversy since it came to light this spring that a state report said he allegedly sexually harassed an employee while working at a prior job. Three Saratoga Springs City Council members have called for an investigation into the situation and the mental health clinic’s operations, while a handful of clinic employees recently defended Prezioso at a county Board of Supervisors meeting, saying he is being unfairly targeted by disruptive workers.

Hellwig and county Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Veitch, who is one of Saratoga Springs’ two representatives on the county board, have said the county had no knowledge of the alleged sexual harassment incident at Prezioso’s former job, with the Capital District Psychiatric Center in Albany, when the county interviewed and hired him.

The selection committee that chose Prezioso consisted of Hellwig; Veitch; Clifton Park Supervisor Anita Daly, as chair of the county board’s personnel committee; former Malta Supervisor Paul Sausville, who was the county board chairman; and former county Personnel Director Jack Kalinkewicz, who retired at the end of last year.

Hellwig said Monday that Prezioso was selected over the other recommended candidates because of his academic background, professional experience and familiarity with a public-sector mental health facility such as the county’s.

Arcangelo could not immediately be reached for comment. However, his letter to Hellwig said the four finalists were ranked according to preference.

That’s not how Hellwig interpreted the list.

“We got a list of four names,” Hellwig said. “There was no ranking that I’m aware of, just a list of suitable candidates. It was a year ago.”

The Board of Supervisors approved Prezioso’s hiring last July and he began work in September.

The mental health director’s salary is paid for by the county. However, state law calls for the director to be hired by a county-appointed Community Services Board comprised of mental health professionals, who presumably are most qualified to choose the best person for the job.

But in this case the board merely reviewed candidates and left the final selection up to the county Board of Supervisors.

Hellwig said, “The reality is, the county is footing the bill for all these services – professional costs and administrative oversight. There has been a mutual understanding over the years, before I became administrator, that we would work together.”

The county’s mental health clinic is located on South Broadway in Saratoga Springs. Last month, Mayor Joanne Yepsen, Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan and Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen said many employees had left because of the clinic’s “toxic” workplace environment, possibly jeopardizing client services.

Doctors who work at the clinic are employed by Saratoga Hospital, but are paid by the county under a county contract with the hospital.

Hellwig wrote Monday in an email responding to questions: “I can tell you that the contract employees who left were leaving to pursue other professional opportunities. This did create a shortage of professionals available to meet our minimum contract agreement for physicians with Saratoga Hospital. It has long been a challenge for public sector mental health clinics like ours to compete with the private sector in hiring psychiatrists to treat our clients, which is why several years ago we moved to a contractual arrangement with Saratoga Hospital.

“The recent departure of some of these doctors only exacerbated the issue, and with the controversy surrounding the center, shined a light on the issue,” Hellwig continued. “Since the time that these shortages were reported, the county acted and has created a nurse practitioner position, which moves many of the physicians’ duties to a nurse position. Also, Saratoga Hospital has sent the county three new doctors, to assist in alleviating the shortage in our contract with the hospital. So, with those actions, we have brought the center back to where we expect (it should be) with the amount of services we should be providing to our residents.”

Arcangelo’s letter to Hellwig said there are also “seems to be some confusion about the role and scope” of the Community Services Board’s responsibilities with regard to mental health director’s job performance and clinic operations. Historically, the board has served in an advisory capacity to the mental health director, he said.

“The Community Services Board has not functioned in any capacity relating to clinic supervision, internal clinic or other agency staff issues or grievances, or supervision of the (director),” Arcangelo said. “I am aware that New York State mental hygiene statute grants the local Community Services Boards greater administrative scope than our current and historical model would suggest, but this has not been the model adopted in Saratoga County for many years.”