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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, March 20

Sounds like Brunelle is being told "thanks, but no thanks."

Saratoga Springs Housing Authority Board of Commissioner Chairman Dennis Brunelle's (That's not a title. Now THAT'S a title) ears must be ringing after the City Council meeting Tuesday night.

Read about the full discussion in tomorrow's Saratogian. For now, I'm just going to put up this little tidbit because I've been sort of following Brunelle's imminent reappointment (or lack thereof) in the blog as of late.

Now if you'll recall, Mayor Scott Johnson said he does not expect Brunelle to request re-appointment to the Housing Authority board when his term expires in April.

Johnson said he has met with Brunelle "a number of times regarding (his tenure on the board)" and said "I think he is interested in doing other things."

That sounded a lot to me like a person stepping down to "spend more time with his family" but I let it go. I then tried to confirm it the next week with Brunelle, who seemed a little offended by the whole thing.

"I never said that," he said. "I told the mayor I would give it some serious thought and that's what I'm doing. I haven't gotten back to the mayor yet."

Well, at Tuesday's meeting it was much of the same from Johnson, who said he had talked to him "as recently as today" about the reappointment.

"I have made recommendations to him and I am still awaiting his decision," Johnson said during the meeting.

"Isn't it your decision not his?" asked John Franck.

"I'm giving him the option of deciding," Johnson replied.

It seems what he meant to say was he was giving him the option of stepping aside "to pursue other interests" or being just being told to go "pursue other interests."

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Wednesday, March 14

Housing Authority loose ends — lots of them

I finally got the numbers for some of the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, so I made a couple calls today.

Dennis Brunelle started things off.

In addition to talking about the legal opinion and possible litigation looming (see tomorrow's paper/website), I wanted to broach the subject of of Executive Director Ed Spychalski's contract, which has come under some fire,.

Brunelle wasn't available when I wrote that story, but I wanted his input.

He said they intend to do a new comparability study (the study that states that Spychalski's salary should be essentially in-line with a Saratoga Springs School District principal's) and that if that changed his salary, "his contract would have to be renegotiated anyway."

I asked him how that would be possible, since from what I understand and how it has been explained to me by a number of people including the mayor, getting out of the contract would be tough. Essentially, if the board sent him a letter of termination today, and if it was the 90 days before his contract renewal date as required, that would only cut one year off a continuously revolving 5-year contract, leaving four more years.

That's a lot of notice to have to give.

Brunelle said that is not how he sees it, but said he will have to talk to the Housing Authority's attorney about it.

Additionally, he said the idea that the contract was negotiated to the benefit of Spychalski, (see previous link), is "just not true."

"It was instituted to protect both parties," he said.

Finally, I got to the issue of his status on the board.

Mayor Johnson said last week in this article regarding, again, the legal opinion he's looking for (I feel like I am on the Housing Authority beat) that he did not believe Brunelle would be seeking another term (which Johnson would have to appoint him to).

Johnson said he met with Brunelle "a number of times regarding (his tenure on the board)" and said "I think he is interested in doing other things."

"I never said that," Brunelle said. "I told the mayor I would give it some serious thought and that's what I'm doing. I haven't gotten back to the mayor yet."

He said he believes the Housing Authority has done a lot in the last four or five years "A lot of good things," he said, and he still has not decided.

The mayor would not comment on whether he would reappoint Brunelle if he asked.

Eric Weller

Next I caught up with Eric Weller and checked with him about his attendance record.

Some may recall from previous posts (such as this one) that there were accusations floating around that Eric Weller was inappropriately reappointed by Mayor Scott Johnson to his third five-year term (that's commitment!) because A) three terms were allegedly illegal and B) Eric Weller never showed up to meetings in 2010.

Well, as far as I can tell both of those contentions are wrong.

In fact, according to everyone I've talked to (including the man himself) Weller attended most of the meetings in 2010 (not 5 out of 12 as the minutes seem to reflect) but they were not recording his presence because he was in Florida and attending via Skype.

That counts as far as I, and the board, are concerned.

"A couple of times I couldn't Skype-in because of technical difficulties," he said, via cellphone Wednesday.

Next, onto the bylaws.

In 2009 they clearly stated, as John Kaufmann pointed out in his letter to Mayor Scott Johnson: "The terms shall not exceed two (2) terms in succession."

But, things change. In 2010, the bylaws mention nothing of term limits and I hear they may have even been changed again.

"They were in conflict with the state and federal laws on this," Weller explained.

When he was looking for his third term, they researched that law.

According to Weller, the term limits were created in 1987, seemingly arbitrarily. Later, though, it was determined that it did not jibe with the laws HUD laid down in that it limited who the mayor could appoint. So they did away with it and thus, Weller's third term.

Anyway, I thought this would be a story when I started looking into it, but it seems like what we like to call a non-story so it will end here.

And Mayor Johnson wanted me to clarify this point as well, because as he said, there was nothing inappropriate with the appointment he made of Weller, according to the bylaws.

Until next time, stay classy Saratoga.

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Who is in charge will wait

Well, Mayor Scott Johnson just returned my call and left me a message (while I was on the phone with Housing Authority board member Eric Weller, whose story will also come soon) saying the legal opinion on who is in charge of the Housing Authority will, in fact, not be released until Monday.

See the post below that I wrote yesterday for some context (and the one I wrote the day before if you want to know what's up with Eric Weller)

Johnson originally said at the City Council meeting last Tuesday it would be released within the week, then last Thursday he said it would be out by the middle of this week and now it will be out by Monday.

"There were some outstanding issues," Johnson said in the message, but said it will clear up a lot of issues.

"It really is comprehensive on all issues raised to date," he said, "including the validity of (Ed Spychalski's) contract, salaries, how the city has any authority over the Housing Authority. It is not cut and dried."

Meanwhile, Eric Weller said that may not be the end of the conversation.

"It is going to take a lot of legal advice and possibly legal action to answer it," he said. I asked him if he would be challenging the decision, if indeed it does indicate the City Council has to approve Housing Authority salaries. "It's something we would certainly question."

The story is obviously not done and there will be more to come, but that's all for now.

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Tuesday, March 13

Housing Authority and the City Council- Who is in charge?

We should know tomorrow.

Word on the street is Mayor Scott Johnson will be coming out with the legal opinion he asked the Assistant City Attorney Tony Izzo to come up with regarding what authority the City Council has over the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority — in particular, the salaries therein.

The 1956 law to create the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority starts, in part, with:
"A municipal housing authority, to be known as the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority, is hereby created and established."

Then, when you go to the Municipal Housing Authority articles of the NYS Laws (actually it is under PBG- public housing- Article 3- Municipal Housing Authorities) section 32, it states:

"An authority shall select from among its members a vice-chairman, and it may employ, subject to the provisions of the civil service law applicable to the municipality in which it is established, a general manager, a secretary, technical experts and such other officers, agents and employees as it may require, and determine their qualifications, duties and, subject to the approval of the local legislative body, fix their compensation."

I went ahead and put the important part in bold/italics (lest ye should miss it). The issue is whether the City Council (local legislative body) has any authority over the Housing Authority's salaries (such as Director Ed Spychalski's $152k a year salary with bonus included).

The law seems to indicate it does but Mayor Johnson said "It is not a black-and-white issue. There are very much shades of gray."

We reported last week that Johnson was waiting on the opinion and I guess the wait is over. Word is it will be released tomorrow. We'll keep you posted.


Friday, March 9

Eric Weller's seat on Housing Authority Board

According to some accounts, he isn't there more often than he is.
Local rabble-rouser John Kaufmann's numbers indicate Weller missed seven of 12 Housing Authority Board meetings in 2010. Of course, I don't know if that includes attendance via Skype or not.
Meanwhile, Weller was also just appointed to his third term, something Kaufmann also says is illegal because of the bylaws of the Housing Authority.
He called me to tell me he would be faxing this letter to Mayor Scott Johnson this morning after we talked about the issue yesterday:

Mayor Scott Johnson
Saratoga Springs City Hall
474 Broadway
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
March 8, 2012
Dear Mayor:
Following our meeting I reviewed the appointments to the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority. Please be advised that it appears that your appointment of Eric Weller to their Board of Commissioners violates their bylaws. Here is the relevant section of the bylaws:

Under Article II, Section : Five (5) members shall be appointed by the Mayor of the city of Saratoga Springs to staggered five (5) year terms in accordance with Section 30 of Public Housing Law. The terms shall not exceed two (2) terms in succession.
The following is a record of Mr. Weller’s appointments:
Eric Weller
- Original appointment 3/6/01 by Mayor Klotz
- Re-appointed 5/16/06 by Mayor Keehn
- Re-appointed 3/15/11 by Mayor Johnson

The next meeting of the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority will be on March 22, 2012. This will also be the last meeting they will have to stop the automatic extension of the executive director’s contract for the coming year.

I hope you will move expeditiously to fill the vacancy this creates.


John Kaufmann

Now, full disclosure, I haven't had time to look into the claims he makes or independently confirm them (that's why this is a blog-post and not a story).

Furthermore, Mayor Johnson left me a message yesterday refuting some of that.

First, he said he does not believe Weller served consecutive terms (this was before he received Kaufmann's letter, which again I haven't confirmed the numbers in).

"I think he was on the board years ago, went off, and then went back on," Johnson said.

Moreover, he said that wouldn't matter anymore anyway.

"The old bylaws had a limit on how many terms you could serve," he said. "That was changed years ago, before I even took office."

He said current bylaws have no such restriction.

Update here: The bylaws with those restrictions were adopted in April 2009, so unless there is a newer copy I don't know about that seems to indicate that there is that restriction. I'll need to take that up with the mayor.

Anyway, we'll see. And if no one noticed in the story yesterday, Chairman Dennis Brunelle is probably not coming back to the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, according to Johnson. I'd love to say "According to Brunelle," but unfortunately I haven't talked to him in more than a week.

He wouldn't give me his phone number. (Perhaps he doesn't want to be frequently berated with questions.) Instead, he said when I want to talk to him I should call Housing Authority Director Ed Spychalski, who can call Brunelle, who can call me.

I have made that call — several times this week. Spychalski said he has been calling, texting and e-mailing the chairman, but to no avail.

When I hear from him, I'll let everyone know what he has to say.

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Tuesday, March 6

Casino Gambling and the police

When I was speaking with Saratoga Springs Police Chief Chief Chris Cole about the salaries in his department last week, we got off on a tangent about casino gambling in the state and I've been meaning to put it in a blog post.

"I don't think there is any doubt it would increase the demand on us," he said about casino gambling.

It's something intuitive, I suppose, but not something I had considered in this whole conversation about casino gambling.

"Criminals follow money," Cole said.

Not that this is an immediate consideration. According to Paul Post's recent story on the racinos' opposition to the whole idea of table games in New York, the issue probably won't make it to the ballot until late 2013.

However, it will be interesting to see if something like the VLT funds takes place on an expanded scale to offset some of the local costs of casinos (ostensibly the reason for local VLT funds).

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