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The Saratogian Newsroom blog, complete with thoughts and commentary from our newsroom staff and regular posts on happenings around town.

Tuesday, December 20

A council's last hurrah

"It seems very blatantly political -- it's the last City Council meeting and the contracts would not be renewed until after the next election," said Finance Commissioner-elect Michele Madigan leaving the City Council meeting Tuesday night.

She had just watched four contracts with law firms and one contract with the city's human resource company, Pinnacle Human Resources, LLC. extended to two-year contracts, something sources in City Hall said is unprecedented.

Accounts Commissioner John Franck spoke out on the city council about just that.

"We've never done this as far as I can remember," he said.

"I think they are good services, but this is bad government" Franck said of the contracts with the HR company as well as the law firms of Harris Beach which handles labor and collective bargaining and Fitzgerald, Morris, Baker and Firth PC which is currently litigating lawsuits on charter challenge and civil service. "I don't think these contracts should go more than a year," Franck said.

He was the sole council member to vote no on all of the contracts except the contract to continue litigating the appeal of the Saratoga Citizen petition, which Kenneth Ivins Jr. also voted against.

Mayor Scott Johnson said the rationale behind extending the contracts is that they locked in the price for the next two years and could avoid any cost increase (something Franck said hasn't happened since 2006), but Madigan saw a different motivation.

"It appears that the rationale behind these amendments may be to solidify them until after the next election so that the incoming council members will have no say in them," she said in a prepared statement she read to the council during public comment.

Franck said that if the City Council were going to award extended contracts to the law firms and Pinnacle, they should put out requests for proposals. "It doesn't make sense to me, I don't see the prices going up dramatically," he said, adding he would expect even better prices if the city put out a request for bids.

It was the last council meeting for two of the men around the table Tuesday. Madigan will replace Finance Commissioner Ivins and Christian Mathiesen will replace Public Safety Commissioner Richard Wirth in less than two weeks and the remaining members offered their praise and farewells to their two departing comrades.

Franck said Wirth has "always been a gentleman who looked past party lines," and he thanked him for his "tireless service" running the city's largest department seven days a week, something Franck knew he did because he frequently saw Wirth coming and going from City Hall on the weekends while he hung out at Compton's.

He said Ivins was dealt a tough hand over the last few fiscal years but said "in your four year period you have brought us back."

Scirocco thanked the both of them as well, though made eye-contact with Ivins (whom he has publicly disagreed with on frequent occasions) when he said "You both in your heart made the right decisions I'm sure."

Johnson commended them for their community service and "dedication to our city."

"Those of us who serve in these capacities know it is no easy chore to undertake," he said. And while he hoped they would continue to be involved in city politics and service, he had one parting lighthearted(?) request:

"Don't come to public comment please."

To drive that point home, here's Madigan's comments to the council in full:
I see that this evening's agenda includes discussions and votes on the Pinnacle Human Resources contract and the Harris Beach contracts. It is my understanding that the current Pinnacle HR contract runs until May 2012 and the amendment seems to merely extend the contract to December 2013. The Harris Beach contracts are also being amended tonight to extend from December 2012 to December 2013. All of these contracts are being amended until after the next election. Absent a pressing need to amend these contracts, it seems premature to even discuss these tonight. Again, a new council will be seated in 12 days, and there are 5 months remaining in the current Pinnacle HR contract and a full 12 months remaining in the Harris Beach contracts. It appears that the rationale behind these amendments may be to solidify them until after the next election so that the incoming council members will have no say in them.
While I have briefly reviewed the specifics of the proposed amendments, and must wait to find out more in tonight’s discussion and possible vote, I must point out the possibility that a majority of the new council may not agree with the wishes of the majority of the current council on such important matters. If this is the case, what will it cost the city to once again change, amend or terminate these contracts? I would respectfully request, in the interests of good governance, fiscal prudence, and transparency, that this council postpone discussion of these items until the next meeting, when the new council will be seated.
Of particular concern to me is the contract being amended that relates to Human Resources. Local governments are facing unprecedented challenges; whether we are addressing fiscal challenges, environmental issues, public safety, or a crisis, having the right people in the right jobs will pay off for our city. It is not clear to me, especially since I have been unable to review the contract in question, that outsourcing Human Resources – in violation of the City Charter - is in the best interest of our city. Since this is such an important issue, I believe it is unreasonable for the current council to take any action on this contract, thereby encumbering the new council which will be seated in 12 short days. We can take this matter up in just a few weeks, and I humbly ask you to allow us to do so.
Thank you,
Michele Madigan, Commissioner of Finance-elect

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