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

Wednesday, October 31

"Signs, signs, everywhere the signs..."

The political shenanigans continue.

I got a call from Kevin Madigan, husband of Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, who said four of his six political signs were stolen from his yard which borders Crescent Avenue.

He said he put them out there at 11 a.m. and while out and about later, decided to drive by to see how well he could see them from the road. He could only see two.

Given the sweep of the last few weeks in which hundreds of signs disappeared from the streets (possibly at the hands of DPW crews, depending on who you ask), Madigan said he thought it must be DPW, but a call to DPW Commissioner Anthony "Skip" Scirocco revealed that isn't the case.

"Absolutely not," Scirocco said when I asked him if it was his crews. "After that article we haven't picked up any signs."

Madigan said all of the signs were Democrats, but "I don't know what the rhyme or reason was," in the thefts, since the perpetrator (as I will now refer to him/her) made off with a Paul Tonko, Jeff Wait, Christine Clark and Robin Andrews signs, but left a John Silverstri and a Carrie Woerner sign. "Jeff Wait is a hometown boy, so I don't get it," Madigan said.

He also said one of his neighbors had three signs out in the morning and said by the end of the day there was only one left. I didn't ask whose.

After calling me, Madigan said he would be calling the police.

Wednesday, October 24

In this corner...

Things were testy at the City Council Tuesday night as Public Works Commissioner Anthony "Skip" Scirocco requested (demanded) money be restored to his budget.

Scirocco said layoffs are coming if he doesn't get $127,231 back in his budget, as I laid out in the story yesterday, but Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan disagrees. If you want all of that back and forth, read the story.

Madigan pointed out that his budget was already up by $311,541 over last year's budget (3.6 percent).

In the comprehensive budget, contracted services are up $178,663.32, equipment was up $111,000, and retirement and health insurance went up by $107,121. The only thing down was personal services, including labor, which dropped by $85,243. He said all of his costs, gasoline, utilities, materials, are up and "we still have to provide a service to the public."

Of course, the arguments Tuesday were on more than just those issues, but for that, let's go to the video:

There was the dispute about whether a $175,000 increase would impact the tax rate. Madigan said it would. Scirocco said he didn't believe it.

"You don't believe it will increase taxes?" she asked.

Then there was the argument about how Scirocco made his request. In the beginning of the workshops, Madigan said she would  only accept budget adjustment requests if commissioners filled out a form she provided. She argued with the mayor about it during his budget workshop and last night Scirocco said she wouldn't be receiving one from him.

"If you would like your changes to be added to this spreadsheet, I'm sure I will get them in the format I requested. Thank you," Madigan said over Scirocco.

"You already got them. You're welcome," Scirocco replied.

At that point, behind Scirocco, Deputy DPW Commissioner Tim Cogan said said something that included — quite clearly — the word "bullshit."

Madigan simply said "I don't appreciate the language from your deputy. Thank you." 

Don't let the "Thank yous" and "You're welcomes" fool you, those aren't the two words they wanted to direct toward each other.

Later in the meeting, Cogan stood up in front of the council and apologized for his language, saying "it comes out of this frustration with this whole budgeting process."

Later I asked Madigan if she'd accept the changes as submitted, she said "I think I can understand them. I wouldn't be that petty."

Wait, what?

Straight from the Doheny4Congress website, crazy press release!
Oh, wait, not THAT Bill Owens...
Former Colorado governor backs Republican businessman in 21st race

WATERTOWN – Matt Doheny has a new ally in his bid for the 21st Congressional District seat: Bill Owens.

(I particularly like that lede. Here is the rest of the release)

“Matt Doheny is committed to keeping taxes low, eliminating unnecessary regulation and improving our aging infrastructure – all pro-growth solutions I championed while governor of Colorado,” said Owens, who served from 1999 to 2007. “We need more people like Matt who have the business background and knowledge that can help guide Congress through our toughest issues. That’s why I’m proud to support Matt – and I urge everyone in upstate New York to do the same this Election Day.”

(I wonder if they sought out Gov. Owens for the endorsement? Seems like they must have... unless the former governor frequently Googles his own name and decided he had to get in on the election action. Either way, good to know what a former Colorado governor thinks about North Country politics)

Doheny added: “Gov. Owens showed true leadership by finding bipartisan solutions to some of Colorado’s biggest issues – and implemented them without breaking the bank. The people of Colorado rewarded his hard work by overwhelmingly electing him to a second term. I truly thank the former governor for his support of my campaign.”

Thursday, October 18

More signs of politics

I have more information about the mystery of the missing signs, as I have been calling it in my head.

Wednesday I wrote about the complaints by some political figures in the city who said their political signs have disappeared from city streets.

Democratic Chairman Charles Brown said the signs were gone from all the streets he checked, and he wasn't the only one.

Since then, everyone I've talked to said they have noticed fewer signs (some are not as upset about it as others) and I've heard City Judge Jeff Wait, who is running for a seat on the State Supreme Court, has also reported disappearing signs.

So too has Pat Kane, organizer of Saratoga Citizen, who not only said that roughly 250 of Saratoga Citizen's "Vote Yes" signs have vanished, but also that one of his organization's volunteers saw a man replacing them with "Vote No" signs and tossing Saratoga Citizen's signs into his car.

Public Safety Commissioner Eileen Finneran said the signs were not taken down by code enforcement officers with the exception of a series of signs on Weibel Avenue which were posted on city property.

Public Works Commissioner Anthony "Skip" Scirocco maintains that he did not give any order to remove any signs and does not know if his crews took any down. However, he said "If they're on city property, I'll have them taken down."  He also said he wouldn't necessarily know if the crews removed signs from city property.

But that's not the allegation. Many in the city said the signs were removed wholesale — signs for every candidate pulled from most streets.

He told me Wednesday that between 200 to 250 signs were dumped in front of the Transfer Station on Monday, but he doesn't know who did it.

The transfer station attendee said the signs "were for no one specifically," but rather ran the political gamut. She said Deputy DPW Commissioner Tim Cogan came down with his truck and hauled them away. The attendee said it was "a truck load," but could offer no estimate on the number.

Cogan said it was about 50 (a far cry from 200) and that he brought them to the DPW garage where they currently sit with about 30 to 40 other signs that were removed from city property.

I'm still working on something for the paper, because it seems that there are some unanswered questions.

If it wasn't DPW crews (which many people have said it was), then who took down all the signs? If it was only 50 at the transfer station, then what happened to the rest, particularly the 250 that Kane says he lost?

Look for the answers in the paper this weekend.

Wednesday, October 17

Signs of politics

Last night at the City Council meeting, newly-elected Saratoga Springs Democratic Chairman Charles Brown said the political signs on Spa City streets have been absconded with.

Brown said it seems to have been clean-up by the city of all signs, not just Democratic. He said obviously the signs cost money and if "the rules are going to change" that he would have liked to be informed before hand, since for at least ten years they have been left alone.

Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen asked what streets had been cleared of political signs. "All of the ones I checked today," he said.

Pat Kane, organizer for Saratoga Citizen, said last week he found someone making off with Saratoga Citizen's signs. Last night, he too said they were all gone from public streets.

"I went to the transfer station to see if I could recover some of them but was told they were all thrown away," he told the City Council.

I'll ask Public Works Commissoiner Anthony "Skip" Scirocco if he knows anything about it today, since it would likely be his department to do the clearing if, indeed, it was the city's doing.

Thursday, October 11

That was a crazy game of poker.... I hear.

A Capital Region blog, Nanoburgh?, is reporting there was a raid on a poker game at old school #2 on Van Dam Street Monday night.

According to the blog, it was a friendly game of poker (they describe it as a "weekly get-together" when agencies "came barreling in," and arrested the two hosts for promoting gambling.

City Police confirmed there was, indeed a raid, and Lt. John Catone said it was a State Police operaton so he wouldn't tell me any of the details (including any other officers beside himself who were there). He said to call them. I did, but I haven't heard back yet, though I know the State Police public information officer always has a lot on his plate, so I'll hopefully hear by the end of the day.

It didn't appear in the paper (as the blog points out) because the information was not released. Any arrests that were made were not reported by the state or city police (I checked their blotter again) as of today.

Another local blog, Saratoga In Decline, blamed it on Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen's "campaign to rid the good streets of Saratoga Springs from a new evil, illicit poker games," but Mathiesen said I informed him about the raid when I called him today.

"If I am doing it, it is without my knowledge," he said with a laugh.

Anyway, I'll report more when I get it.

Coming Soon! Andrews V. Marchione debate 

The two will be facing off in a League of Women Voters forum next week, but there is no debate scheduled in the 26 days to the election between Dem. Robin Andrews and Rep. Kathy Marchione. 

Andrews said she requested one, but Marchione declined.

Andrews said she is "very disappointed."

"I think there are a lot of differences between us and I think it is only fair to let the voters see them," she said Wednesday. 

On the other side, Marchione Spokesperson Ken Girardin said he hasn't ruled a debate out, but one has not been scheduled.

After I pointed out that we're working with four weeks (when I wavered on that, checking the calendar, he quickly said "27 days.") until the election, he said the Roy McDonald v. Marchione debate was pulled together in nine days "in the heat of the final days of the primary."

Otherwise, he said "We're pleased with what the League is putting together." He said they have "talked to the League about loosening up the format" so that each candidate will respond to the questions. But he said "I can't speak to" whether there will be any more.

This isn't the first time Marchione has declined a debate or forum. Many will remember she passed on a previous League of Women Voters forum with Roy McDonald and Conservative-line challenger Edward Gilbert. At that point, she accused (and Roy never denied) McDonald of helping to get Gilbert on the ballot to muddy the waters for her. Still, many were upset she didn't attend, though she did attend one the following week. 

For my money, I'd say there probably won't be another debate scheduled before the election. 

Marchione has more name recognition — at least in this county and probably Rensselaer, but I couldn't speak to Columbia County. That is due in part to the primary, where she was the subject of dozens of ads (on both sides of the issue), not to mention all of the press coverage of the debate and victory speech. And obviously there is the fact that she's been Saratoga County's clerk for more than a decade.

All of that adds up to her having nothing to gain from a debate and everything to lose. As we saw in the presidential race, debates can make a big difference in voters' perception of a candidate.

And speaking of debates, any speculation on what tonight will look like? I'm thinking it will be more animated than the Romney v. Obama debate. 

Biden is always good for talking off-the-cuff and, I mean, look at these guys:

Tuesday, October 9

Also Coming Soon! Marchione V. Andrews debate

Just got off the phone with the spokespeople for both Robin Andrews and Kathy Marchione, the Democrat and Republican running for the 43rd Senate District. Both said they are working to get a debate set up between the two candidates.

Sounds like it's just a matter of scheduling it, but one can never tell.

I was told by both camps they will have some kind of announcement about it coming out in the next couple of days, so maybe they're talking to each other as I type this.

Meanwhile we're setting up endorsement interviews with candidates from all of the races that impact Saratogians locally, so look out for more information about the candidates in the coming weeks because we'll take those endorsement interviews as opportunities to pin down candidates on local issues.

If you have any questions for politicians representing Saratoga County you'd like answered, comment below or send me an e-mail at and we'll make sure we put the questions to them.

Monday, October 8

Coming Soon! SSHA Audit

Sources who couldn't speak on the record say the Comptroller's audit of the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority will be out this fall, not, as some people have suggested, years from now.

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said it would come out some time in the fall, but many people questioned whether that would actually happen, particularly given the years it took for the audit of the Troy Housing Authority.

But I'm told the draft report has already been completed and submitted to the board for review. They were given some amount of time (some time between 30 and 60 days) to turn it around with any comments they would like to add or criticisms they would like to lodge.

I've been trying to get that information on the record for print, but Chairman Eric Weller has not been available (or his phone has been out of commission, as it is starting to seem) for about a week now.

I have only second-hand information on the contents of the report, but I'm told it doesn't address the relationship between the Saratoga Affordable Housing Group and the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority.

Again, that information is not confirmed, but if true, it would seem to have missed a big issue. The "volunteers" from the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority — the SSHA facilities manager, accountant, executive director and others — who all wrote letters saying they only worked off-the-clock on SAHG business was concerning to many.

Also concerning was the potential for co-mingling of funds between the two groups. Of course, authorities at the Authority say that wasn't happening, but the fact that former Chairman Dennis Brunelle justified Ed Spychalski's $150+ taxpayer-funded salary, in part, based on his work with the non-profit SAHG raises some serious questions.

Obviously we'll have to wait and see what the Comptroller's report says, but if that relationship isn't addressed (as DiNapoli said it would be when he came into The Saratogian to discuss some of the issues) I think they may need to do another.

But again, the fact that it isn't included is inconclusive, as I haven't seen the report itself. 

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Saturday, October 6

Iron Chef Saratoga!

The Spa City has a new Iron Chef! John Ireland of Panza's Restaurant on Saratoga Lake was crowned champion on Saturday.

John Ireland of Panza's Restaurant
The competition at the Saratoga Farmers' Market pitted bitter enemies (at least if you read into their names) Ireland against Max London of, you guessed it, Max London's.

Max London
Staying true to Iron Chef competitions, the challengers were presented with a basket of their "Mystery ingredients" at the beginning of the show and had an hour to cook. All of the ingredients came from venders at the Farmers' Market and they were also given $30 to buy any others they needed for their recipes.

The secret ingredients were Gar-La-La, kale and lamb. (Dum dum dum!)

London was the two-year reigning champion and came out swinging with a flat bread appetizer, an entree of lamb served with fennel, kale and ricotta gnocchi, closing out the meal with a fruit-filled crepe topped with crème fraiche for dessert.

As you can see from the pictures to the left (all of which were provided by the Farmers' Market), the competition was stiff. Head judge Daniel Berman, a food writer for and contributor to said "only a couple of points separated the two of them." 
But even before the judges rendered a decision, London did not look pleased. It could have been the drizzle of rain or the blowing wind. Ireland said the wind, in particular, made some of his dishes more difficult. However, he did add that the appliances, supplied by Adirondack Appliance, cut down on any issues with outdoor cooking. 

Ireland, maybe looking to prove something against a two-time Iron Chef, pulled no punches. 

He started with a salad of tomato, cucumber, fennel, grilled eggplant oregano, fennel fronds, "Gar-La-La, which is like a garlic, potato… almost a pudding," he said. "It was one of the secret ingredients they gave us along with fennel." 

The second course was lamb with braised kale, fish sauce-bacon jam and Brussels sprouts.

The third dish was an interesting dessert of butternut squash, braised in rice vinegar, pumpernickel, Serendipity goat cheese and plum. The judges praised it for not being too sweet.

 Here are the questions I asked Ireland after he took the title:

Me: So how does it feel have been judged the city’s new Iron Chef? 

Ireland: It feels good, I guess. It’s just cooking but it’s good fun. You have to challenge yourself so it was a good time.
Me: You obviously got the secret ingredient when the competition started and had an hour to prepare, so were these dishes you’ve made before or had to come up with here?

Ireland: I came up with them here when they let me in on the secret ingredient, but I had a baseline. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I had an idea of what I wanted things to look like. From there it was just kind of putting pieces together. 

Me: How do you feel about the way the dishes came out?

Ireland: They were okay. There were a couple of things… like I wish my lamb was a little hotter and stupid stuff like that. But nothing crazy, I thought they were okay. 

Me: So what do you do now that you won the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market Iron Chef Challenge? Do you go to Disney World?

Ireland: No. I’ve got to go to work.

Friday, October 5

Water Contract, etc.

Here is the water contract, the amendment, the legal opinion from the city attorney, Joe Scala, and the competing legal opinion from the former city attorney, Peter Tulin.

Please ignore all of the random notes written in the margins and the note to "Call Barb's cell" in the top corner of the front page. Otherwise, enjoy.

Water Contract

Tuesday, October 2

Water war

The water is starting to boil as this debate heats up over whether the city can sell water to Wilton for residential use or not.

At last night's City Council meeting, Public Works Commissioner Anthony "Skip" Scirocco said he worked entirely off legal advice from the city attorney when he agreed to sell water to Wilton.

"I don't blame you, Skip," Accounts Commissioner John Franck told him at the City Council table. "It sounds like you got bad legal advice."

Attorney Joe Scala penned a legal analysis of the city's contract with Wilton in November to justify the sale of water to Wilton. Last night, he got up to defend himself at the Council meeting, but said essentially the memo is his opinion.

That memo uses a few sections to justify the sale of water to Wilton. Paragraph 5(A) which states, in part, "the potable water so supplied shall be used primarily for the domestic water use of the structures (his underline)." Paragraph 8: "The city, if permitted by all necessary Federal and State of New York regulatory agencies, agrees to sell the Authority an additional supply of potable water amounting to a daily maximum supply of 519,300 gallons per day at an average daily usage of 252,250 gallons per day." As well as paragraph 10 which states "no potable water supplied by the City to the Authority will be initially distributed by the Authority beyond the use specified in paragraph "5A" herein or when the approvals required by paragraph "8" are obtained."
After all of those, the memo says "Clearly the current proposal falls well within the boundaries of the terms of the agreement."


The memo does not address the fact that the "domestic" use cited in paragraph 5(A) is specifically referring to domestic use within commercial structures (that was my emphasis). That line, actually, prompted Franck to say “The Twinkie defense holds more water than this. It was pretty clear it was supposed to be for commercial (use).”

That analysis was supported by Peter Tulin, who was the city attorney at the time, as well as both Bill and Tom McTygue, who were at the head of the Public Works Department at the time, have said the intent was commercial use. 

My big hangup in my reading of the contract was paragraph 8, which was included by Scala, which says: "The city, if permitted by all necessary Federal and State of New York regulatory agencies, agrees to sell the Authority an additional supply of potable water amounting to a daily maximum supply of 519,300 gallons per day at an average daily usage of 252,250 gallons per day."

While that paragraph was later amended to cut the amounts in half, it also never mentions whether it has to be for commercial or residential, which made me think they left the door open for more general water sales. 

Tulin, though, said "that section never mentions commercial or residential because by paragraph 8 it's clear you are talking about commercial sale."

That would be supported by a later section when the contract says pretty clearly that to sell water the Authority needs to notify the city of: "The name and type of commercial use for which the facility or structure which is being supplied with water will be used."

Anyway, Scirocco said he will be willing to discuss it further, and while he said he considered putting up another contract, he did not commit to that at the Tuesday night meeting.

Old HR, same as the new HR

Up for a discussion and vote tonight at the City Council table is a month-to-month contract with Pinnacle Human Resources, the organization that has been providing services to the city for more than a year.

The group's contract was terminated in the first City Council meeting of September when Accounts Commissioner John Franck said he was not satisfied with their services.

Franck maintained it "had nothing to do with politics," but with the vote split along party lines and a personnel issue unfolding in the Accounts Department involving Mary Zlotnick, at least some at the City Council table thought it had to do with more than services.

The new contract lays out that it will be month-to-month. When terminating the contract, Franck said he wouldn't be opposed to Pinnacle handling the city's work while it searched for a new company and Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan said she was in favor of hiring someone in-house.We'll see if that position makes it into the comprehensive budget tonight.

Also concerned was this letter-to-the-editor writer, but I think she was talking about a different set of politics (ideological Dem vs. Rep) than the mayor, who seemed to be talking about the political dynamic of the city and the council. 

Of course, HR in the city has been political since the Council opted to go for an outside contractor rather than hiring an actual HR director.

In December — the last meeting before two Republicans on the City Council were replaced by two Democrats — the Council voted to extend the HR contract for another year in a move incoming Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan called "blatantly political."

The one Dem on the council, Franck, voted against it and extending the Harris Beach legal contract.

And Speaking of Harris Beach and Mary Zlotnick, I'm trying to get a tally now of how much her personnel hearing actually cost the city.  In speaking to her at the hearing, she was aghast at the cost (but to be fair, she probably would have been upset about the proceedings if it was all free).

I haven't gotten a good bead on it yet, but the equation goes something like:

$200 an hour (Harris Beach contracted cost for "general labor issues") times the entire Zlotnick hearing (my estimate is somewhere in excess of 40 hours, but I could be wrong) =something to the tune of $8,000, and that does not include any fee or lodging the hearing officer and court reporter were paid (I don't know if that was included in the Harris Beach cost or not, but I suspect it wasn't).

I'll keep trying to see what the bill eventually added up to.