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Friday, 05 August 2016 10:01

Taxpayers to Foot Mayor’s $12k Bill

By | News
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Springs City Council meeting on Tuesday, August 2, at City Hall ran very late and covered quite a bit of ground, ranging from a Code Blue update to billing the taxpayers over $12,000 for Mayor Joanne Yepsen’s legal fees in her response to the City’s Board of Ethics findings against her. At the beginning of the meeting, the mayor handed out copies of the rules of conduct governing the council meetings, and arguments ensued throughout the meeting as to who was breaking which rules. Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan brought up a concern of meetings not staying on point, and of not feeling safe, to which City Attorney Tony Izzo suggested a higher security presence, but Madigan clarified that she is requesting council members have the authority the mayor does to remove people from the room. A discussion also ensued regarding spillover of acrimonious behavior from the council chamber into City Hall, which human resources is looking into. The mayor put forth for a vote to the council a request asking the City to cover the $12,340 in legal fees she incurred with Harris Beach Attorneys at Law. She had incurred the fees to contest the ethics board’s findings that she violated section 13-3 (I) of the City’s Code of Ethics with her discussions with the Saratoga Hospital Foundation on a potential job contract with her personal business. Commissioner of Public Works Anthony “Skip” Scirocco asked outright, “Why should the City pay for it?” Commissioner of Public Safety Christian Mathiesen questioned whether a lawyer was even necessary given that there was no lawsuit and no criminal charges and why it took approximately 55 hours of legal work for such a simple task. “It occurred while I’m serving as a public official,” said Yepsen. “It was very confusing. This is my first time dealing with lawyers like this. I was given bad advice, my deputy left, and I went four weeks without a deputy.” Commissioner of Accounts John Franck added, “There is a 2007 precedent for this, plus action taken at the last council meeting of sending the resolution to JCOPE could set up legal needs, so the only mistake here is not first getting a purchase order.” The council members’ discussion included concerns that the legal fees were a gross overcharge; that the mayor neglected to follow City Charter rules requiring her to submit the cost for approval before the cost was incurred; whether or not the services were for the office of mayor or for Yepsen’s personal business; whether lawyers were even necessary; and several other concerns. In the end, the vote was 3-2 for the City to pay the bill, with Madigan and Scirocco voting in the negative. Another ethics board ruling was accepted by the council, finding the mayor was not in violation of gifts regulations by asking NYRA to donate a Mayor’s Box to the City, because the request was for City use, not personal use. NYRA discontinued donating the $9,000 box in 2013. The meeting began with a second public hearing on changes to the Peddling and Vending Code. It will allow special event organizers to allow vendors to participate in a special event without incurring any extra fees for the event. Insurance language in the ordinance has been updated. As in the prior hearing, no one from the public spoke, and later in the agenda the measure passed. The public comment period included a request for the Charter Commission to post documents and links online so the public can better follow the meetings that occur the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. Concerns about the Nelson Avenue Bridge Extension, water fees, meeting rules, the Mayor’s censure, and a potentially dangerous intersection (Gilbert/Weibel/Lake) were all raised. Compliments were expressed during the public comment period to the Parking Task Force members and to the Saratoga Springs Mounted Patrol. The parking task force recommendations included a suggestion to target revenues from parking fees to garage maintenance, roads and beautification. According to Madigan, that would be against State rules for municipal budgets, that funds cannot be targeted in a separate line and must go to the “pot” first and then follow regular budget procedures. “Trust the budget process,” she said. She also raised a concern that appointees to a future parking board should be made by the department head governing the board, whether public works or public safety, than from the office of the mayor. With friendly amendments, the council voted to accept the recommendations of the task force, which is nonbinding and will help inform future parking discussions. Yepsen announced that news would be forthcoming regarding Code Blue, that there is potential for the shelter as well as a drop-in center, but a commitment and details are under discussion and not ready for public announcement. In further business, the city is contracting Gar Associates to conduct a study of workforce, senior, special needs and mixed use housing to help inform housing future policymaking. The council voted to authorize the mayor to sign an inter-municipal agreement with the Saratoga Housing Authority for the Affordable Housing Study, and voted to accept the agreement between the City and Greenman Pedersen for the Ballston Avenue Traffic Improvement project.
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