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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, August 21

Assessing the Assessments

Many probably noticed the story in the Times Union this morning about the Attorney General's office allegedly investigating the Saratoga Springs Accounts Department for their dealing with condo assessments.

Here is the link to that article if you missed it (I suppose I'll give the competitor a link).

I've also been following this development over the last couple weeks.

It started as rumors. Crazy rumors. Rumors that members of the Accounts Department were reducing people's assessments for political favor and cold hard cash for everyone from GOP bigwigs in the city ("Ever notice no Republican ever runs against John Franck?") to city judges.

When I first heard the rumors, I looked into it (crazy rumors, but if true...), but nothing really seemed illegitimate.

I've been in contact with sources who are aware of the scope of the Office of the Attorney General's investigation.

At this point, I'm told its an investigation on whether to investigate; i.e. an investigation into rumors. In fact, I was told last week that calling it an investigation would be premature.

The AG's office has a policy not to comment about their investigations, as I've found out in the past.

The idea is that even saying there is an AG investigation ongoing is enough to give the perception that there is some wrong-doing, even when much of the time the investigation reveals nothing.

The rumors then started getting pared back. It became that members of the Accounts Department were taking cash in exchange for streamlined information for Diane Young, who is mentioned in the TU story.

"Then the rumor was that Diane Young was my sister," said Accounts Commissioner John Franck last week when he brought the issue up to me.

I had been working on a Freedom of Information Act request to put to his office asking for every assessment reduction over the last three years, but he said that was unnecessary.

He, too, had heard rumors (I hadn't heard Diane Young was allegedly his sister until he mentioned it) and wanted to head them off.

"I'll give you whatever you want," he said. "I've got nothing to hide."

In fact, Franck said he had a sister named Diane Young, but she lives in Pennsylvania and doesn't know much about the real estate market.

He said, though, that the other Diane Young knows quite a bit about it. Enough, in fact, to know that condos in the city are chronically over-assessed, according to Franck.

Franck said she would look up condo assessments, find ones that were over-assessed, approach their owners and make a pitch to get them an assessment reduction for a fee. 

Franck said "some she's won, some she's lost."

He said he has been a proponent of changing the way condos are assessed, which he said is not based on purchase prices but rather on rental prices, something I'm planning on exploring in a Sunday story this week because I've heard a lot since I moved here to the land of condos and I thought it would be a good way at getting at this story.

I've been talking to my editors about this for a week and even with the TU story coming out, we stand by our way of looking at this.

I'm sure that will get me in trouble with commenters (I've already gotten the obligatory nasty e-mail), but what doesn't?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see Franck has already bullied you into the corner. Are you going to look into his own properties that he's assessed? Franck has made over $500,000 this past year. Sounds like an awful lot of money for a bookkeeper who works for West and Co.

August 21, 2012 at 4:50 PM 
Blogger Lucian said...

Don't get me wrong, I'll continue to look into all of this and if I find something my readers will be the first to know. I just haven't found anything, yet.

August 21, 2012 at 5:50 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How come there is no article in the main part of the paper on the investigation? Every other commisssioner has taken the heat from time to time. No guts no glory. This is a little blog that no one sees. If it was Scirrocco Barb would be all over this. Times Union put it in. So should you.

August 22, 2012 at 7:26 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good points! Why isn't this being covered? The State comptroller is there and the Attorney General. Must be things going on. State has been there for awhile now. Come on Barbara get with the program.

August 22, 2012 at 3:10 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think a campaign should hit the streets that Saratogian is covering up news that the general public should know. Our assessments are not being fairly done unless we pony up the money. Investigations by the Attorney General and the Comptrollers office at the same time? Inquiring people want to know!

August 22, 2012 at 4:40 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

7:26 am, I agree. Why no article? I'll tell you why. Barbara's husband was one of the chairmen for Mctygue's campaign. And we all know Mctygue is tethered to John Francks hip. The Saratogian publisher should seriously look into this situation. The AG would not be wasting their time if it was not warranted. Obviously, something is amiss contrary to this blog. Also, fellow citizens we need to keep on the State Comptroller, who is currently auditing City Hall, to also look into this matter. Our tax dollars at work!

August 22, 2012 at 5:39 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@4:50 PM
Franck is not a bookeeper who works for West and Co. Frank is a CPA who is a shareholder at West and Co.
I have no idea how much money he makes, but I do know the difference between a bookeeper and a CPA, and I do know the difference between an employee and a business owner.

August 23, 2012 at 11:17 AM 
Blogger Lucian said...

To all of the commenters who say we are covering up news: We're not.

I'm putting an article together for the weekend which will address this issue, but to be clear, my sources (which are quite reliable) say there is no investigation. It's an investigation into whether they should conduct an investigation.

There's a difference.

If I call the AG's office and tell them a local town supervisor is embezzling money, they look into it. That doesn't mean a local town supervisor is embezzling money or there is an investigation. That means they look into it and see whether the accusation warrants an investigation.

At this point (as my article will lay out) the AG's office has requested documents from the SSPD, which looked into the allegations nearly a year ago and found nothing outright criminal, and has conducted an interview with the person making the allegations, but the AG's office will not comment on whether there is an "investigation" ongoing.

There is no cover-up, there is just due diligence and not sensationalizing the issue. I'll be laying out the accusations, as well as what I see as the bigger picture, in Sunday's paper.

Until then, have a happy Travers Day!

August 23, 2012 at 3:49 PM 
Blogger Ben lives on said...

Damed if you do famed if you don't.funnyworld

August 23, 2012 at 4:17 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, Lucian, for not getting sucked into this hysteria. The public needs real information, not rumors and misinformation. If these bloggers want the disinformation they should just talk to each other and not bother the rest of us with their rants.

August 23, 2012 at 4:45 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This, to me, sounds like a long excuse as to why the staff of the Saratogian chose not to include a story that is integral to the political and financial happenings in Saratoga. It appears that you made this decision on the premise that the story “started as rumors,” and because it started as rumors, and because you, Lucian, did not find anything legitimate in regards to these rumors, the story was deemed as irrelevant to readers and unworthy of landing a spot in the paper or on the site (in a place other than this blog).

It’s incredible that this story, which began with alleged rumors, is simply cast aside and viewed as inappropriate for official publication; however, I can easily recall some recurring stories that you pursue which are often fueled and motivated by unfounded rumors and illegitimate speculation.

This is a shining example of the biased and crooked methods that your paper uses—cherry-picking stories and deciding (in one scenario) that the rumors do not provide a viable basis for a story, but (in another scenario) determining that rumors are acceptable aspects of a story and can, in fact, be used in your favor to overly embellish a topic.

“The idea is that even saying there is an AG investigation ongoing is enough to give the perception that there is some wrong-doing, even when much of the time the investigation reveals nothing.”

How interesting, Lucian, that you’ve finally recognized the vast difference between perception and reality. I’m proud that you’ve finally realized that an investigation is not proof of wrong-doing. But it’s also quite interesting that you’ve included this within a blog post related to an investigation of John Frank’s office by the Attorney General. It’s almost as if you’re reassuring your readers and telling us not to think that anything is wrong just because there’s an investigation. There was not a pertinent reason to include this quote other than to influence your readers to believe that they needn’t consider this an actual story because the investigation will probably reveal nothing. This quote only leads me to question who you’re trying to protect and why you’ve emphasized this “idea” about how “much of the time the investigation reveals nothing.” Please stop trying to persuade us that nothing is actually wrong—leave that up to the investigation at hand. And yes, Lucian, there IS an ongoing investigation. Stop saying that there isn't an investigation, because guess what-- an investigation INTO whether or not to launch an in-depth investigation is STILL an investigation. It's merely the preliminary stage and a routine aspect of investigations.

At least the TU remains consistent in publishing stories that may or may not be true. Let me ask you a question Lucian-- can you only report on the news when you know for a fact that it is legitimate and 100% true? Take, for instance, Watergate. Do you think Bob Woodward knew, with 100% certainty, about all of Nixon's crimes? And I mean ALL of Nixon's crimes? This is a far-reaching question, but it makes the proper point that you simply will never have a significant amount of evidence or proof at the beginning of an investigation-- that's not how investigations work. If you had all of the evidence and answers, it wouldn't be an investigation. It'd be a closed case.

All else aside, the Saratogian owes it to readers and members of the local community to publish the news of Saratoga. A story shouldn't be ignored within the news section of a newspaper simply because you can't verify it's legitimacy. There's an investigation going on, and it's your job to report on its existence. After all, the Saratoga Springs Accounts Department is YOUR turf, just like other local agencies that have been under a microscope by your paper are also YOUR turf. If rumors can serve as news in other scenarios, then they should serve as news regardless of who it’s about. Be consistent and be ethical. This was a poor, poor choice on behalf of the staff of the Saratogian.

August 23, 2012 at 5:40 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why then does the Saratogian sensationalize everything about SSHS? Ok to sensationalize that, but not this? Sounds like a cover up to me. In your own words you knew about it a year ago. Not a word in your paper. Sounds like we have a rogue councilman in our city. After all perception is reality in John Francks own words. I fell bad for all the people that could not afford to pay to have their assessments lowered. John Franck stated that it was the fault of Tony, from the assessors office, when in fact he was not even there when this happened. Maybe the AG should look into the nepotism in John Francks office and throughout city hall. People in glass houses should get dressed in the cellar.

August 23, 2012 at 8:10 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sensationalizing? So this woman just for kicks made all this up? Come on. John Franck (yes he is a bookkeeper) is running your paper that's why nothing is in print. Who is doing the article for you? Have you looked into his house on North Broadway and see how that is assessed? Do you know that his house used to have apartments there but he cut it up into 5 condos and sold them off? Did he do that by the letter of the law? Did the house have to be rezoned for him to do this? We will be relentless on these matters so come clean now or this will turn out to be a media blitz with your covering up be at the head of the story.

August 23, 2012 at 8:33 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow--amazing comments. My favorite from 5:40 "A story shouldn't be ignored within the news section simply because you can't verify it''s legtimacy." So this person wants you to print anything anyone tells you wiithout checking into it. Probably as long as it's not about him/her. This certainly seems to be the standard of these bloggers. Say anything even if it is verifiably not true ie 8:33 John Franck is a bookeeper (no a CPA, partner in West and CO.--look it up) or John Franck says it was Tony's fault. Huh? Can this person cite where that was said? Not in the TU article so where?? In his head maybe. Interesting that Tigue won't post a link to your blog giving your take on all this. Wonder why.....

August 24, 2012 at 11:49 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

2 5:40pm This is the good ole boys network we are dealing with in our city. You are absolutely right. If the Attorney General is looking into Commissioner Frank it IS an investigation. This good ole boy newspaper is nothing more than a cronie run operation and will always be until they pull themselves out from under their reign. So keep up the pressure and let's see if they are willing to step up to the plate. Let's not forget that they are also being audited down there at city hall by the NYS Comptrollers office.

August 24, 2012 at 4:42 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should check out Saratoga in decline because he is taking the lead on a story about John Franck tht you are missing the boat on. This is just the beginning to much more info about his wheeling and dealing.

August 25, 2012 at 12:22 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

regarding the case of our corrupt city and a brave blonde whistleblower

our local paper is obviously paid off for favor or afraid to stick its pennysaver like neck out to cover a story that impacts us all

its become quite clear that you would prefer to run your97 articles on where to put the 911 monument and stay clear of what is best for our community and the basis of all true cutting edge journalism

August 26, 2012 at 9:42 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well Lucien, we see you delivered as promised. A fine example of politics at its best. The rogue councilman is smiling today. Another day of getting away with stealing from the taxpayers. Thanks for NOTHING Saratogian. John Tygue did a better job than you.

August 26, 2012 at 10:39 AM 
Blogger Ben lives on said...

Lucian I don't see a story.
I think you should at least explain.

August 26, 2012 at 11:29 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lucian, I think the approach you are taking is the right one. In a situation where the words General Attorney investigation is mentioned, those involved are automatically crucified. There are many comments here that read like they are from another blogger's page. I'll bet you a dozen donuts that if the investigation turns up that there was no law broken, there will still be some nuts saying that Franck and others conspired to 'steal' from the citizens.
Some people have nothing better to do than to keep trying to sling **** at everyone.

August 26, 2012 at 11:48 PM 
Blogger Kyle York said...


Thank you for your professionalism and your dedication. That said, it is now noon on Monday... so where is your detailed "weekend" piece? Not held up in executive editing I hope.

August 27, 2012 at 1:12 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The John Franck damage control team is out in full force. Way to go cowing down to the political pressure. Time for you look into this further. How about Franck's friends that have been on the council and those who ran and never won that get these breaks that the average Joe can't get unless they cough up money to his girl Diane Young. How about posting his his propertes and their assessments history over the last 8-10 years. It's public record. If you have nothing you are hiding hy are you turning your head. How about Barb Lombardo's assessment during this time.

August 30, 2012 at 12:39 PM 

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