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

Thursday, May 31

The Alex Grant case remains open

Received sort of a random statement today from District Attorney James A. Murphy III's office reaffirming his office's offer of immunity for anyone who comes forward with information about Alexander Grant's death.

He says in the release that: "This case remains open, and we and Alexander Grant’s family continue to seek and ask for information."

The family has not said much about the case. Recently, Grant's father Kenneth Grant spoke to another reporter about a lawsuit filed against the students who were allegedly drinking with Grant.

“The complaint is essentially my statement at this time," he said. "We are continuing our efforts to find out what happened to Alex and hope that those with information will come forward to offer explanations.”

Today, Kenneth Grant, talked to The Journal News and and thanked the authorities for their efforts on his family’s behalf.

“We want to express our thanks to District Attorney (Jim) Murphy and to the entire law enforcement community up there for their continued support of our efforts to find out what happened to our son. We are still looking for answers and believe there are unanswered questions. We hope people will step forward,” he said.

I spoke with the private investigator this year, too, who is still actively investigating the incident and he said the young man's parents are just looking for information as to how their son died.

Perhaps they requested the DA re-issue the offer of immunity.

*Update is in the newspaper right here*

Until then, here is the release:

Statement from the Saratoga Springs Police Department and the Saratoga County District Attorney’s Office regarding the ongoing, pending investigation into the death of Alexander Grant

May 31, 2012

We have recently passed the one-year anniversary of the tragic death of Alexander Grant, who visited Skidmore College and the Saratoga Springs community from Boston College the weekend of March 5, 2011. As we review the events of this unfortunate loss, we are issuing a plea to the entire Saratoga Springs community for anyone who has information related to his visit and the events surrounding his loss to please come forward. This case remains open, and we and Alexander Grant’s family continue to seek and ask for information.

We have also spoken to officials at Skidmore College who have expressed deep regret over the loss of Alexander Grant and sadness that more information concerning the details of the events surrounding his death has not been forthcoming. The College understands how frustrating it has been for the Grant family not to have sufficient information to fully grasp the circumstances surrounding the death of their beloved son. It is the College’s wish that through the continued collective actions of the Police, the District Attorney’s Office, the College and the community, more information will be forthcoming.

The Grant family joins with us in encouraging anyone with any information to come forward as they cope with the loss of Alexander.

Anyone with information should contact the Saratoga Springs Police Department (Investigations Unit) at (518)-584-1800. Anonymous information may also be given anonymously by using the (518) 584-TIPS line or the police department's website at

The District Attorney’s Office has previously promised and reissues contemporaneous with this statement a promise of immunity to anyone who comes forward and provides information regarding Alexander Grant’s activities the night in question.

All contact will remain confidential if requested.

Wednesday, May 30

Congressional, senate and assembly districts and why they're annoying

I assume I am not the only one out there to have had real trouble keeping the new lines of congressional, assembly and senate districts straight since redistricting.

I was surprised recently at someone who represented us in the county, and in an effort not to be surprised again, I sought out a map.

Success! And what a map it is!

It's on the Center for Urban Research website. The research is done by the City University of New York Graduate Center and in its own words:
"The Center for Urban Research (CUR) works with faculty and graduate students to organize basic research on the critical issues facing New York and other large cities in the U.S. and abroad, collaborates on applied research and information dissemination with public agencies, nonprofit organizations, foundations, the media, and other partners, and holds forums and workshops on urban research undertaken at the Graduate Center and the City University."

Anyway, without further ado, here is the Awesome map.

To switch between senate, congressional and assembly districts, click the drop-down menu at the top right hand of the screen.

Definitely check out all of the various overlays you can add in the "More data" tab at the bottom right hand of the screen and some of their other maps and projects here: Other awesome maps and projects.

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Tuesday, May 15

Stop or I'll say stop again!

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The City Council voted to forward a “Compliance and Communication Plan” to the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority.

The plan, drafted by Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, outlines steps the SSHA can take to comply with state law that requires housing authorities must submit their employee salaries to the City Council for approval, something the SSHA has not done in more than a decade.

The plan states that the SSHA “shall bring forth to the Saratoga Springs City Council for approval” all salaries and salary increases since May 2000 to this year for retroactive approval as well as all future salaries and an annual report from the SSHA.

Many of the commissioners, while admitting they would likely not be seeing any of the money already paid out over the last decade, have stated that in order to look at future salaries, they would need to revisit some of the major salary increases over the last ten years.

Most notably in that was SSHA Executive Director Ed Spychalski’s $152,000 annual salary which is up more than 100 percent from the $75,ooo he made in 2006 when he took the position.

Accounts Commissioner John Franck, though, has also questioned SSHA accountant Cindy Gaugler's similar salary increases. She went from $48,000 in 2006 to $85,000 this year, according to the city's records.

Mayor Scott Johnson, while voting in favor of the plan, was hesitant about demanding the salaries for approval because, according to a legal opinion from the city attorney’s office, the city has no recourse if the SSHA does not comply with the requirements.

“I’m not quite sure we have the authority for that,” he said. “If they refuse, what will our next step be? As a council we should be prepared with a plan B.”

Johnson suggested bringing representatives from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the New York State Office of Homes and Community Renewal and the SSHA into one meeting to work out what organization has oversight over the SSHA — a suggestion proposed by Madigan earlier this year.

“I thought the same thing,” she said, “but I determined this was the best course for now,” referring to her proposed plan.

Franck, who has argued vehemently for the city to take a more assertive role over the SSHA, said “We shouldn’t even have to ask for this. I don’t know what a plan B is. I just think we have to follow what the law is.”

He said most of the SSHA’s employee salaries would be likely approved by the Council without issue. "I've seen the numbers in Civil Service and most of them are not egregious," he said.

“They can say no,” he said. “If we don’t even ask, I think we’re derelict in our duties.”

One of the SSHA board members was in the audience at the City Council meeting and said he agreed with Johnson’s suggestion to hold a meeting to work out the issue of oversight.

“We have new board members with a different mentality than old board members,” said Al Callucci, one of the newest members of the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority Board of Directors.

In the end, though, the Council voted to move forward with Madigan’s Compliance and Communication Plan as a first step.

Below is the plan. The only thing they changed from the draft is that the bi-annual report was changed to annual.
Compliance Communication Plan SSHA-DRAFT CCM 05-15-12(1)

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Tuesday, May 8

Presidents' favorite past-time

It seems like the American past-time has a place in American presidential visits.

It's funny how, despite the big talk of economics and jobs and all of the other things, there were a couple of references to baseball on the tongues of the attendees of President Barack Obama's speech Tuesday. Maybe it's just because it's the beginning of the season, but I thought it was funny.

The President of SUNY Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, Alain Kaloyeros mentioned that the president was speaking on the 41st anniversary of the New York Mets being named, an event he said that set the state up for "40 years of disappointment," with a laugh (though for Mets fans it's a bitter chuckle).

Later, when I was talking to New York Sen. Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga (thanks anonymous), he said he has had two conversations with the last two US presidents, George W. Bush (He called him Bush Jr.) and Barack Obama.

“They were both fine people and it was an honor to talk to them,” he said. “Just think about the magnitude of what Bush and Obama had- 300 plus million people, how bout world peace? They had a few things on their table."

But McDonald said they were both down to earth. "I talked to them just like I'm talking to you," he said. "I was honored that in both conversations with both presidents, we ended up talking about baseball. Pres. Bush liked the Texas Rangers and Obama had the Chicago White Socks."

I did not bring up the fact that whoever these presidents like, they're in Yankee country here.

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Wednesday, May 2

Last call for City Hall

It seems like the marathon City Council meetings as of late are the new normal. Last night went from 6:30 to at least 11 p.m. when I left (I got tired of the circular arguments about last call and was tired in general).

And maybe it was just the time, but disagreements started to devolve around 10 p.m. when a debate broke out over whether more trees should be added to the Woodlawn Parking Garage project.

Recently, Sustainable Saratoga which is conducting the tree survey in the city, sent a letter to the City Council requesting the city put more trees in that project.

Michele Madigan brought the issue to the table for a discussion. "It would make this project so much nicer," she said.

But that sparked debate.

Anthony "Skip" Scirocco (who was "Skippy" to John Franck throughout the meeting) said more trees would mean more shade which would mean more ice in the winter.

I couldn't make out most of the arguments over the din of city commissioners, but it seemed that Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen was saying it would harken back to the days of the tree-lined Saratoga streets, Franck seemed to be supporting Scirocco (he joked they would be campaigning together next election), I head Madigan say at one point "the perils of trees in winter time" possibly in jest, and Mayor Scott Johnson just wanted to move on. "We've discussed this enough," he said.

I don't know that there was ever any resolution to that.

Later in the meeting, the issue of last call was discussed. It was a re-hashing for the most part. Mathiesen defended his statement that the atmosphere downtown was "toxic" ("It is toxic") and said "Most of our citizens wold not recognize downtown Caroline Street late at night."

He's putting it up for a vote of the City Council May 15, but Madigan and Franck both want to wait until after the State Liquor Authority issues a formal opinion on whether changing last call has to be county-wide (the most recent SLA opinion is that it does).

"I think it makes a difference," Franck said.

Mathiesen said it doesn't matter for their purposes, since if the City Council approves changing the bar closing time it would mean going to the county either way.

As they debated whether the county's role mattered to the City Council, one of the county representatives stepped in and addressed the council.

"You don't worry about the county," Supervisor Joanne Yepsen said, pointing at Franck. Yepsen said she and Supervisor Matt Veitch would deal with the county.

"Wait," Franck shot back, holding his hand up to her, palm out like a traffic cop ordering a vehicle to stop. "Is it the whole county going to 3 a.m. or is it just us? It's not the same," he said. "Don't tell me not to worry about what I'm voting for."

"No, I'm saying vote for what the city wants and we'll worry about the county," she said, emphasizing her points with hand gestures.

Then, walking back to put the microphone back in its stand and holding her hands up in frustration as she walked back to her seat, she said: "The county will determine what happens at the county."

This is the stuff that's going to happen, though, if they keep everyone up so far past their bedtime. Next meeting doesn't appear to be much better, either. Starts at 6:30 with a public hearing and many of the same things on this week's agenda — Saratoga Citizen charter change, Housing Authority corrective action plan, last call — will come up again.

I'm bringing a pillow.

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Tuesday, May 1

Spychalski takes a poke at some of his critics... I think

Just thought I'd float this little tid-bit out there.
When I was reporting the story in today's paper about the burning bridge between the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority and the Saratoga Affordable Housing Group, I of course had to talk to SSHA Executive Director Ed Spychalski.
During our talk about why the SSHA would no longer be managing the SAHG's (which it created) properties, he said he was done volunteering there.
"I don't want to anymore," he said.
He couched that by saying he just didn't have the time and the SSHA didn't need the money, but there was a touch of bitterness to his voice.
One quote that didn't make the paper because of a lack of space was this little gem:
"There are a lot of people who have managed non-profits and there are a lot of accountants who have done this for years,” he said, “they can do it.”
So of course I had to ask if he was possibly referring to his two biggest detractors, John Kaufmann, the former executive director of the Economic Opportunities Council ("managed non-profits") and Accounts Commissioner John Franck ("accountants").
Of course, Spychalski said he wasn't referring to anyone in particular, but it seemed like a funny choice of words to me...

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