Saratoga PAC Goes Into Action

In this week’s Saratoga Today, Bob Manz who heads the Saratoga PAC wrote a letter in which he praised Rick Wirth and Sarah Burger for meeting with them seeking their endorsement for Public Safety Commissioner.  He castigated Chris Mathiesen for declining to meet with them.

Some of you will remember that in an earlier blog I asked all three  Public Safety Commissioner candidates if they would seek the endorsement and support of the PAC.  As thoroughly documented in my blogs, the PAC is comprised primarily of companies related to construction and real estate and was formed  in opposition to provisions in the city’s new Comprehensive Plan that continues to protect the greenbelt from development such as proposed by Saratoga National Golf Course.  Mr. Manz heads D.A. Collins which is probably the largest construction company in the area.

When I asked Sarah Burger and Rick Wirth whether they would seek or accept an endorsement and money from the PAC they offered “transparently evasive (hard to put those two words together)” answers.  This is covered in my July 27 post titled “To Candidates For Public Safety: Will You Feed From Saratoga PAC’s Money Trough.”  In contrast, Chris Mathiesen made clear that he was not interested in legitimizing them by seeking their support.

More On Saratoga PAC Donors

There appears to have been an update to Saratoga PAC’s filing.

Please note that if the names of the companies are in bold face, it is because only the companies were listed and no individual names.  Where there were individual names I looked them up on the web as best I could.  There is one correction.  David Gordon was misidentified in the last post.  He is the head of his own development company.

I did not include most of what I had listed in the last post on Saratoga PAC.  I did include all the family members associated with D.A. Collins again.  I did this because there were quite a few listings for companies that donated to the PAC which all turned out to be subdivisions of D.A. Collins.  If you are interested in learning more about them, here is a link to their web site D. A. Collins link.  They do very large excavation and construction work. This includes things like building highways and bridges.

Collins, David D. A. Collins 250 A subdivision of D.A. Collins Construction
Collins, Karen D. A. Collins 250 A subdivision of D.A. Collins Construction
Manz, Mary Grace D. A. Collins 250 A subdivision of D.A. Collins Construction
Manz, Zachary D. A. Collins 10 A subdivision of D.A. Collins Construction
Manz, Robert Jointa Galusha LLC 1000 A subdivision of D.A. Collins Construction
Manz, Robert Jointa Lime Co. 500 A subdivision of D.A. Collins Construction
Manz, RObert Kubricky Construction 1000 A subdivision of D.A. Collins Construction
Manz, Robert Pallette Strong Corp 500 A subdivision of D.A. Collins Construction
Manz, Robert WWC LLC 1000 A subdivision of D.A. Collins Construction
Manz, Robert D. A. Collins 500 A subdivision of D.A. Collins Construction
Billok, Michael Bond, Schoeneck, King 25 Attorney
Martell, Chris Hodgson Russ 200 Attorney
Clements, Dominick DeCrescente Family LP $2,500.00 Beer Distributorship in Mechanicville
Haworth, Mark Bonacio Construction 500 Business partner of Sonny Bonacio
Hayes, Robert Hayes Development, Summit Accounting, Hayes Industry 100 Calls himself an Accountant Entrepeneur
Witt, John Witt Construction 100 Construction
Roberts, Dave Roberts Smithe 250 Construction
Faith, Peter Greenman-Pederson Inc. 100 Construction with corporate headquarters in Babylon, NY
McDonald, Todd Broadstone Advisors 290 Corporate Offices In Albany. Provide financial services to the construction industry
Sutton, Rod Saratoga Parking Services 500 Insurance (He has parking for the track as a sideline)
Perry, Kyle Century Health Capital, Inc. 500 Mortgage Broker
Gordon, David Gordon Company 500 Office in Albany, Corporate Developer
Unknown Environmental Soil Management Inc. 1000 Offices in Fort Edward as well as New Hampshire and Canada
Roohan, Thomas Roohan Realty 1010 Realtor
Hislop, Sarah Sothebys International Realty 100 Realtor
Holloway, Cynthis Saratoga Pelican Associates LLC 110 Their telephone number is the Holiday Inn
Unknown Ballard Road Dev. LLC 1000 They have a web site with an address in Brick, New Jersey but no name or telephone number. They tell you to email them. Their web site names them Land Associates LLC
Sheeran, John Unknown 20 Unknown
Hanlon, Edward Unknown 50 Unknown
Griffen, Stephen Saratoga Sod 220 Wilton, NY raises and sells sod

The Planning Board Sends Its Zoning and Comprehensive Changes To The City Council

In a letter dated August 19, 2015, Mark Torpey, chairman of the Planning Board, sent the changes to the zoning laws and the comprehensive plan to the city council. Apparently, such actions are done through the Commissioner of Accounts which in this case is John Franck to whom the letter was written.Letter From Planning Board With Zoning Changes

I will be doing a further analysis of this but one striking anomaly/contradiction is the committee’s assertion that the changes to the zoning law to allow a golf resort in the city’s RR1 district (greenbelt) are consistent with the comprehensive plan. The contradiction is that the changes recommended in the letter include amending the comprehensive plan to allow “resorts.”

Here I quote from the Planning Board letter regarding the comprehensive plan change:

Add a sentence to the last paragraph of the Section entitled “Country Overlay Map” as follows:

The intent of this section is not to prohibit or permit any land use activity but instead to reaffirm that open space values be taken into consideration in development proposals within the Country Overlay Area. For example, a properly designed [ golf ] resort development with sufficient open space and natural resources protection and opportunities for public recreation could provide positive contributions to the City as well as to the long term preservation of the surrounding greenbelt.

It is unclear why the word golf is in brackets. Could there be other kinds of resorts? I do not know and I will try to find out.

The central issue here is that if, as a majority of the Planning Board asserted, changing the zoning to allow for a resort was consistent with the comprehensive plan, why is there a need to amend the comprehensive plan? This Alice in Wonderland logic is just another example of how tortured this process has been and how much a wealthy and influential player in Saratoga Springs can affect public policy.

Please also note that the language calls for setting aside 50% of the land to be “dedicated for open space purposes. The open space protected pursuant to this section must have ‘conservation value,’ which shall be determined by a conservation analysis as described in city code 241-12B(2)”  Conservation Easement Chapter 241 12B(2)

Basically, a conservation analysis looks at how much land can actually be built on. This analysis would exclude wetlands, stream buffers, land that has sufficient drop to make it not suitable for construction, etc. There are also some other terms involving critical habitat, archeological value, etc. What is left after these lands are excluded in the analysis is referred to as “unconstrained land “(for developers this is the good stuff).

It is important to note that the easement of this land is supposed to be perpetual.

Michael Toohey droned on at length about the generosity of Saratoga National Golf Course’s support for this change. What he failed to mention is that if this were a proposal for a residential subdivision they would have to do the same analysis and they would be subject to the same limit of building on 50% of the “unconstrained land” just as in SNGC’s resort. There is a significant difference in that the balance of the land in a subdivision would not be required to go into an easement to allow public access. Still, since SNGC cannot use this 50% for development, they are not making any real sacrifice in allowing the public to use it. One outstanding question that still needs to be answered is where the actual golf course fits in. If 50% of the land must go into an easement, would there be enough land other than the golf course and buildings to provide the 50%? I do not know. I will see if I can get answers.

Who Is Buying Your City? The List of The Saratoga PAC Donors

I went on the New York State Board of Elections and found the July report for the Saratoga PAC.

With a little more work I was able to identify who most of the donors were.

One interesting element is that Cliff Van Wagner and Tom Lewis who are on the Saratoga Springs Planning Board gave generously as well as Linda and Michael Toohey.  All are involved in the Saratoga National issue.  The Tooheys gave a combined total of over $5000.00.

This is the list of the Saratoga PAC Donors

It makes very interesting reading.

A Very Troubling Exchange With Michele Madigan

I am saddened by this exchange with Michele Madigan.  We have had our differences over the years but she was always open and direct in a refreshing way.  I invite the readers of this blog to make their own judgments regarding the emails that follow.  In my experience, when a politician refuses to seriously engage on an issue and insists that you wait for the vote, it does not bode well.  One can only hope that in this case things will be different.

I would also draw your attention to our disagreement about the role of Mark Schachner who handles the legal matters regarding land-use law.


To: Michele Madigan

From:John Kaufmann

Date: August 14, 2015

As you know, Saratoga National Golf Course petitioned the city to amend the zoning laws in order to expand their facilities in the city’s greenbelt.  The language was drafted by Michael Toohey.  Three members of the Council, of which you were one,  passed this language on to the Planning Board for their advisement.

When the Planning Board met in a workshop to review the text amendment, they dismissed most of it as inconsistent with zoning law.

You had previously expressed reservations about the language in Toohey’s amendment.   Apparently you decided to meet with Mark Schachner, the lawyer the city uses for land use issues, and asked him to come up with language that could withstand challenge to accomplish what in effect Toohey ,  the SNGC attorney, could not.  At the public expense, Mr. Schachner then crafted new language.

Over the thoughtful objections of the Planning Board chairman, the Planning Board adopted Mr. Schachner’s language.  They made three changes in the document.  They increased the number of stand-alone residences from five to six.  They filled in the spaces indicating the amount of land to be set aside for permanent easement to be 50%.  They amended the comprehensive plan to allow for a golf resort.

You have made previous statements that your support for changing the zoning was contingent on two things.

  1.  that all but the twenty-five acres on which the construction will take place, must be put into a permanent easement.  This would include the golf course.
  2. that the comprehensive plan not be changed

In light of the fact that the document approved by the Planning Board fails to comply with your two requirements, do you expect to vote for or against its adoption.

The citizens of Saratoga Springs have a reasonable right to know whether you plan to hold to your promises prior to the night of the meeting.  It is important to note that Schachner’s work was critical in coming up with language to effectively save the text amendment.  Since he did this at your request, you are now the architect of saving the text amendment and in effect, making it possible for Saratoga National Golf Course to get the change in the city zoning to achieve their goals.  I look forward to your answers.


To: John Kaufmann

From: Michele Madigan

Date: August 16, 2015

John, I think you are confused about the process here.

Firstly, your continual mischaracterizations of Mark Schachner’s work on this issue shows a lack of understanding of how our City government works. The Council asked the Planning Board for an advisory opinion; Mark Schachner is the City’s retained legal expert on such matters. It’a only natural that the Planning Board discuss these issues with our attorney versus relying on the legal work of an attorney who represents the interests of a private landowner who may prefer broad and sweeping changes to our Comprehensive Plan and zoning ordinances. Why you would suggest that the Planning Board and the Council should rely on Mike Toohey’s work on and not on our own legal counsel is beyond me.

Secondly, I am one of five voting members of our City Council. The City and County Planning Boards do not tell me what I can or cannot vote on, they merely provide advisory opinions. No matter has been brought forward for a vote by the Council, nor will there be on one (sic) Tuesday Aug 18. When an amendment is brought forward for my consideration I will vote accordingly, and my vote will be in line with what I have said – to you, to the public, to anyone – on this matter. I really do not know how much clearer I can be with you. You keep asking the same questions – and asking them prematurely – and I keep giving you the same answer.

Thank you,

Commissioner Michele Madigan (and by the way I spell my first name with only 1L.  I do like to see my name spelled correctly.  Thanks again.)


To: MIchele Madigan

From: John Kaufmann

Date: August 16, 2015


I am very grateful, and the readers of my blog should appreciate, your willingness to engage on not only this issue but all the issues that the Council must address.  One of the things I have always admired about you is your openness and accessibility.  You have a history of being one the most open and direct people on the Council.  It is for this reason that I am utterly confused that on the issue of this text amendment, which has now been formally sent to the Council from the Planning Board, that you are unwilling to discuss the problems with it, in particular, the issue of whether what they are recommending for an easement is sufficient to meet your requirements.  I also do not understand your unwillingness to share your thoughts about whether the Comprehensive Plan should be amended for this.  For someone who has always been forthright in discussing your concerns and in educating the community about many public policy issues, I am just lost to understand your reticence to share your analysis on this stuff.

We seem to be talking by each other when it comes to Mark Schachner.  I have no problem with Mark Schachner offering an opinion to members of the Council or the Planning Board on the legality of what Mark Toohey has put forward for amending the city zoning law.  My difficulty is that after Mark Schachner accurately exposed the poverty of Toohey’s language for amending the zoning code, he rewrote it so that it would achieve what Saratoga National Golf Course was seeking in order to make it more legally defensible (I still question whether  what he produced is not spot zoning).  I do not think that the taxpayers of this city should be paying our attorney to rework Toohey’s botched language.  I think the point is fairly obvious.  I am a little surprised that you would think that I want you to take Michael Toohey’s advice about anything.

As for misspelling your name, you have every right to take me to task for it.  I owe you a glass of the wine of your choice as a mea culpa for being so sloppy.



On the evening of August 16 Michele texted me to indicate that she was satisfied with her response and that we were talking around each other so there would be no further exchange on this.

To Candidates For Public Safety: Will Yor Feed From Saratoga PAC’s Money Trough

I attempted to contact all three candidates for Public Safety regarding whether they would solicit or accept an endorsement from the Saratoga PAC. In an earlier post I have discussed this PAC in detail. Suffice it to say that their membership is mostly the traditional funders of the Republican Party business leadership. Among their board members are Gary Dake (Stewarts), Sonny Bonnacio (construction), and Bob Manz (Construction).

Rick Wirth responded to my first email to him but never answered the question. Instead he asked whether Commissioner Mathiesen had ever taken money from a PAC and whether, if he had, he would return it. I sent him two follow-up emails but never received a response

Rick Wirth Fitst Response

Email Exchange With Rick Wirth

Worse was Sarah Burger. I went to her Facebook page and asked the same questions. She never allowed my question to be posted on her page and she never responded to me. I did a follow-up attempt with the same outcome. To make sure that she received it, I waited to see if other posts would appear. There were two posts subsequent to my attempts so I feel confident she received them. I think her unwillingness to even address the issue does not speak well for her.

I owe Sarah Burger an apology.  I discovered tonight that my questions were posted on her Facebook page.  I try to be rigorous and careful in what I write and I guess I do not understand how layouts work on Facebook because I looked in the wrong place for the posting.  Having said that, she still has not answered the question about whether she will accept PAC support.

Chris Mathiesen responded. He was unequivocal. He will not solicit Saratoga PAC’s support nor accept their money if offered.

Chris Mathiesen On Saratoga PAC


Subsequent to this post I received an email from Rick Wirth saying he has been very busy and will respond in several days.  When I get his email, I will post it.

RIck’s Email Saying He Will Respond