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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, June 18

Authority over Housing Authority?

Well the Housing Authority was as contentious as ever Tuesday night at the City Council meeting where Democrats attacked each other over what should be done about the salaries of the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority.

"You need to do your job tonight and take a vote on this resolution," Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan told Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen, who was trying to table the vote on disapproving Housing Authority salaries proposed by Madigan.

Mathiesen said he did his job every City Council meeting.

"You're not doing it tonight by asking me to table this resolution," she responded.

Mathiesen was arguing that he needed more information about the salaries before he could vote to disapprove the SSHA salaries Tuesday night.

That was, ironically, the same argument Mayor Scott Johnson used to justify voting for the disapproval, something he said was "not a vote of no confidence" about the SSHA, just a vote that indicated he did not have enough information to make up his mind.

Meanwhile Madigan and Accounts Commissioner John Franck basically said Mathiesen was making their point for them.

They have repeatedly requested information from the SSHA and though some has been provided, the supporting documentation for the salaries has not been among it.

SSHA policy requires that they basically justify the salaries they pay their employees.

"I cannot even fathom how you can justify a public employee's salary doubling in four years," Madigan said (again to Mathiesen).

As an explanation, here's something from a year and a half ago:
"(Executive Director Ed) Spychalski’s 2011 compensation is $151,956, not including benefits, including the use of a publicly-owned vehicle. His starting salary in November 2006 was $74,777 and he has received $77,179 in pay raises since then."
That included two bonuses, so in the fiscal year that starts next month his salary is being proposed as about $145,000.

"Is he overpaid? Possibly," Mathiesen said. "Is he outrageously overpaid? I don't think so."

Mathiesen said he needed more information from the Housing Authority before he would vote on the issue.

"We've been talking about this for 19 months now," Franck said. 

Here's another couple tidbits from past stories:

According to the State Comptroller's audit of the SSHA conducted last year, Spychalski makes more than 93 percent of the housing authority directors in the country.

That includes the directors Plattsburgh, Troy, Schenectady and Albany, each of which handles “significantly more tenant rentals” than the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority.

In fact, Spychslki at his peak made about $45,000 less than the New York City Housing Authority director, John Rhea, who managed 178,882 apartments, 2,602 residential buildings and 334 developments, according to its website.

Anyway, it's unlikely the vote will have much of an effect on the SSHA.

They vote on their 2013-2014 salaries with their budget Thursday and Board member Al Callucci said he expects the budget to pass, as is.

"There's no reason it shouldn't," he said, after the City Council meeting. 

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

What Madigan fails to understand is Spychalski's $74,000 salary was his pay when he was Project Manager. He was promoted to Excutive Director and did the job for a year before being compensated correctly

June 19, 2013 at 1:06 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It clearly seems that Commissioner Mathiesen has a serious conflict of interest in this matter. When the Council last met regarding about asking the Mayor to remove most of the SSHA Board it was Mathiesen who said he would find out information from Chairman Weller regarding certain issues. However, it seems that the Commissioner has fallen down or didn't follow through on his argument to gather the information or have Weller appear before the Council to answer some simple questions, it is a shame because the Commissioner seems to be doing what he promised to do when he ran for office but again it looks like he does have a conflict here.

June 19, 2013 at 1:28 PM 
Blogger Lucian said...

To 1:06 PM:

Madigan and Franck both said the first round of salary increases may have been appropriate. The next few that effectively doubled his salary were questionable, though, they said.

June 19, 2013 at 5:04 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The salary is supposed to be in line with principal of School. At the time the principal of schools was at over $180,000 with many years of service. At his retirement his replacement started at substantially less. Just like when Spychalski retires next year the replacement will start at less. Very simple really. Why are we wasting taxpayer money on such nonsense. Don't these two have city departments to run?

June 19, 2013 at 6:39 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Comm. Mathiesen is the only smart one. He did his homework and asked the right questions from the right people. The Authority has to submit salaries to the council, not the reason they set the salaries. Quite honestly, they have given the information requested time and time again. The problem is these two council members hide what they don't want you know. After a year and a half of this the public has got to realize that if there were something amiss, someone of a greater authority would have stepped in. Mainly, HUD who is the convening authority. Quite honestly, who are any of us to say that the man is overpaid. We don't do his performance evaluations, nor do we know how hard he works or his accomplishments. Time to move on and leave this agency, who is high performer alone. The executive director, the office and maintenance staff have taken enough abuse.

June 19, 2013 at 6:40 PM 
Anonymous The Bookie said...

Kudos to the 4 members of the council who said 'enough already' and voted to disapprove of these ridiculously high salaries. A $50,000 secretary-- how do i get a gig like that?

"Sometimes I honestly think that Commissioner Mathiesen should consider resigning. Every time he opens his mouth he gets more stubborn, intractable and foolish. He can't even run his own dept. and now he wants to tell people who are running things competently how to do things! Kudos to both Commissioners Madigan and Franck for standing their ground against this buffoon

June 19, 2013 at 7:01 PM 
Blogger Lucian said...

I just wanted to put this out there, in response to 6:39 p.m.'s comment.

Here is an e-mail response from Kurt Jaeger, Assistant Superintendent for Business in the Saratoga Springs City School District. I asked him about the high salaries of principals cited by SSHA Chair Eric Weller in support of the Authority's salaries.

"Upon reviewing the data, I would clarify that the 2012 amount is a one year aberration. The administrator's contract was unsettled for several years. The amount reported to the (Teacher's Retirement System, which is the source for See Through NY data) included two years of retroactive raises as well as the current year raise (three years of raises being reported in one year). In addition, (the highest paid) administrator had elected to accept a health insurance waiver (stipend) instead of having the district paying the larger amount for his heath insurance. The timing was such that the two payments were within the same TRS period. Waivers cause salaries to increase, as it has the effect of reclassifying benefit payments (which decreased) into salary amounts. The amount reportable for 2013 should be substantially lower.

I hope this is helpful.

Kurt Jaeger

Assistant Superintendent for Business
Saratoga Springs City School District"

June 19, 2013 at 9:29 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ The Bookie____ If you checked you would find out that the phone operater of city hall makes more than $50,000 and does much less. Half the time the answering machine does the work. The SSHA Secretary has many duties as do most of the employess there. Many of them have also been working there over 20 years. You shouldn't blame them for taking a raise yearly for a job well done. Comm. Matheisen's dept. hasn't had Atty General investigations and law suits brought against them like Accounts dept.

June 20, 2013 at 7:07 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The phone operator at city hall absolutely does not make 50K per year, seriously get a clue. And the Attorney General isn't investigating any department at City Hall. That's right there is nothing to investigate in the Accounts Dept. except the ramblings of disgruntled ex-employee.

June 20, 2013 at 10:25 AM 
Anonymous The Bookie said...

@ Anon 7:07: I don't blame the SSHA secretary at all, in fact I'm jealous! And i will concede that he/she is a hard worker and dedicated, etc.
But pointing out that the City operator also makes an exorbitant salary also just goes to show that the public sector is out of control.
We tend to forget that these salary dollars come out of your pocket and mine, and you cannot tell me that in this recent economy you couldn't fill both these jobs for about 1/2 the cost, and still have applicants lined up around the block.
As far as Matheisen not being investigated, since when is "not being investigated" a point of honor?
I never said that the PS Commish was corrupt and a crook. I said he was incompetent, and, at the most recent Council meeting, a logjam - who, BTW, got slapped down 4-1, and it says here deservedly so.

June 20, 2013 at 12:27 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Get real folks. The City has several overpaid people by your standards. Job decription, job duties and responsibiltites and time in the position create the situation. By the conversation above when soemone reaches a level of salary you do not approve of they should be terminated and replaced. The debate is silly. There was a time when the private sector average wage was much higher than the public sector and most employees paid 30% of the Healthcare Plan. Those days to my dismay as well are long gone. The public sector now leads the way in salary levels, free or minimal contributions to healthcare, six weeks vacation for several, comp time which rises in value from year to year and on and on. We still have tenure in the school system when we know the sharpest teachers in most but all cases are the latest hires with the latest information. The contracts in Saratoga Springs are the most generous in the State. Based on the converstaion above and the numbers posted in the Saratogaina listing 2012 salaries and comp/OT apparently none read it or understood it. NYC Police at some levels make less than SSPF Officers. If you don't have a handle on the facts tha stop wasting everyone's time with foolish rhetoric. The deabte continues to come from the uninformed arrogant and ignorant.What you fail to relate to is there has to be some loyalty to your employees as well.

June 23, 2013 at 7:45 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Article 3, Section 32 of the NYS Municipal Housing Law may be of particular interest to the current discussion because it details how authority positions are established and how compensation rates are approved. The specific language follows:

“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.”

§ 32. Officers and employees; compensation and expenses. 1. When the
office of the first chairman of the authority becomes vacant, the
authority shall select a chairman from among its members. 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.

So the law & case law are clear as a bell: the City Council MUST APPROVE the compensation of all authority employees.

The mayor tells the community that the law is unclear because he is compromised and does not want to force the issue. Remember he knew about the bed bug issue almost two years ago but did nothing because he did not want it to become an election issue in 2011.

The Council, as a body, can finally resolve this question by directing that the City Attorney seek an opinion from the state attorney general.

One more thought, the chair continues to say that HUD is the controlling authority. It is not. The City Housing Authority was established by State law, its employees fall under the City Civil Service and enrolled inn the state retirement system.

June 24, 2013 at 9:43 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To state the Mayor did nothing about the bedbug issue is an outright fabrication. He held a series of meetings with the residents and management present and as each issue came up the response to how a certain issue was being handled was addressed. There was no other member of the Council although invited ever to step foot inside the property throuhout the entire fiasco.Do I agree the time frame was longer than necessary/ YES Do I think anyone who was involved at any level at SSHA showed concern. YES Do I feel poor direction was given to the management by the Board. YES Do I feel the current Board would have handled it differently. Absolutely. If the State Comptroller's report felt the law had been compromised in any way the AG would have been involved. The past is history. People learn by their mistakes and gain from them long term. You can sight Section 32 as crystal clear but if it was the AG would be involved. 9:43 - John - It's sad that you feel you are that perfect person and somehow you and only you have the ability to judge others. Only God can judge!!

June 24, 2013 at 5:32 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Section 32 states an authority. Does the mean the City Center Authority which is a local authority or does it apply to a Federal Authority which supercedes the state. When you have the answer to that one let me know.Therein lies the grey area.

July 4, 2013 at 6:00 AM 

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