At­tor­neys hired to watch bal­lots

Spa City coun­cil names firm to watch ab­sen­tee count

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Joseph Phe­lan jphe­lan@dig­i­tal­first­

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. » A day be­fore ab­sen­tee bal­lots are counted to de­ter­mine the fu­ture of the Spa City’s gov­ern­ment, the city coun­cil Mon­day de­cided to hire an at­tor­ney to ob­serve the count.

With only three of the five city com­mis­sion­ers present -- Mayor Joanne Yepsen and and Pub­lic Safety Com­mis­sioner Chris­tian Mathe­sien were ab­sent -- the coun­cil hired the Glens Falls law firm of FitzGer­ald Mor­ris Baker and Firth at a cost of up to $5,000 to over­see the bal­lot count at the Saratoga County Board of Elec­tions. In­spec­tors are ex­pected to be­gin count­ing ab­sen­tee bal­lots Tues­day.

The heart of the is­sue is the re­sults of the Nov. 7 gen­eral elec­tion. A pro­posal to change the Saratoga Springs city char­ter was lead­ing by only four dozen votes, but with 560 ab­sen­tee bal­lots left to count, that re­sult could change. Yepsen and Mathiesen sup­port chang­ing the city gov­ern­ment, while the three com­mis­sion­ers present at Mon­day’s meet­ing -- Ac­counts Com­mis­sioner John Franck, Fi­nance Com­mis­sioner Michele Madi­gan and Pub­lic Works Com­mis­sioner An­thony C. “Skip” Scirocco -- are op­posed to the change.

A hand­ful of res­i­dents voiced their frus­tra­tion with us­ing tax­payer money for at­tor­neys dur­ing Mon­day’s special coun­cil meet­ing, but Franck ex­plained the job of the elec­tion at­tor­ney.

“Their job is to ob­serve and re­port back to the city coun­cil. They’re not even to talk to these peo­ple on ei­ther side. It’s to get the votes counted, and that’s why I had to use city money be­cause I can’t use our city at­tor­neys,” said Franck. “... I’m not try­ing to change votes here. I’m try­ing to find out what the in­for­ma­tion and

pro­tect the city from law­suits, and we’re al­lowed to do that.”

It’s Time Saratoga, a prochar­ter change group, said it will not send an at­tor­ney to Tues­day’s bal­lot count but did ad­mit it con­sid­ered hir­ing an elec­tion at­tor­ney. How­ever, af­ter con­sult­ing with an elec­tion law at­tor­ney, It’s Time Saratoga found out it doesn’t have the stand­ing to par­tic­i­pate in the scru­tiny of the ab­sen­tee other papers bal­lots, ac­cord­ing to a news re­lease re­lease.

“We plan on re­turn­ing any money we have col­lected for le­gal fees and more im­por­tantly, we plan on fol­low­ing the law,” said It’s Time Saratoga’s Rick Fen­ton.

Bob Turner, chair­man of the Saratoga Springs Char­ter Re­view Com­mis­sion, said he trusts the Saratoga County Board of Elec­tions to do its job.

“It is a bi­par­ti­san in­sti­tu­tion that is man­dated by law and their oath to con­duct the elec­tions ac­cord­ing to law,” said Turner. “I do not un­der­stand why the three city coun­cilors don’t trust the Board of Elec­tion to han­dle the count­ing of ab­sen­tee bal­lots.”

Yepsen, who did not seek re-elec­tion this year, took is­sue with what she called “the in­ap­pro­pri­ate way the meet­ing was sched­uled.”

“Un­for­tu­nately, our cur­rent char­ter al­lows for three coun­cil mem­bers to call a meet­ing with­out any no­ti­fi­ca­tion to the full coun­cil. In the rare case that a special meet­ing is called, the nor­mal pro­to­col has been to reach out to the full coun­cil to en­sure avail­abil­ity,” Yepsen said. “Com­mis­sioner Franck, Com­mis­sioner Madi­gan and Com­mis­sioner Scirocco, the three Com­mis­sion­ers who have been very vo­cal against the new char­ter pro­posal ... chose not to in­clude the mayor or the pub­lic safety com­mis­sioner in the sched­ul­ing process, both of us who are in fa­vor of char­ter change I only found out about the meet­ing by a mem­ber of the press. This is not how our city has done or should do business; this is not serv­ing the whole con­stituency.”

Madi­gan and Franck re­sponded to the mayor’s state­ment, not­ing an e-mail with “Special Coun­cil Meet­ing Mon­day November 13” was sent to the mayor’s ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant last Thurs­day af­ter­noon.

“The no­tion that Mayor Yepsen and Com­mis­sioner Mathiesen, or their staff, weren’t ad­e­quately alerted to this meet­ing or that the process dif­fers dras­ti­cally from prior special city coun­cil Meet­ings is fac­tu­ally in­cor­rect, and shows ei­ther the bla­tant mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of ac­tual events, or a fail­ure to ap­pro­pri­ately track city coun­cil-re­lated com­mu­ni­ca­tions,” Madi­gan said.

Madi­gan also took aim at a meet­ing that took place Fri­day with the mayor, Mathiesen, cur­rent deputy mayor and Mayor-elect Meg Kelly, and the city’s two at­tor­neys, Vince Deleonardis and Tony Izzo and the state board of elec­tions. Madi­gan said she, Franck and Scirocco didn’t know about that gath­er­ing un­til the mayor re­leased a state­ment Mon­day.

“This would have been use­ful in­for­ma­tion for a broader dis­cus­sion with city coun­cil mem­bers,” Madi­gan said.

Yepsen said the meet­ing took place to re­view elec­tion law, say­ing the state board of elec­tions rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Brian Quail, ex­pressed con­cerns over the coun­cil hir­ing an at­tor­ney to over­see the ab­sen­tee count.

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